Whale Sharks are a slow moving, filter-feeding carpet shark and the biggest known fish species. The largest confirmed individual weighed in at 21,500 kgs with a length of 12.6 metres. The whale shark is found in warm tropical waters.
It is a pelagic species and one of only three filter-feeding species of shark, the other two being the basking shark and megamouth shark.
They feed using a ‘ram’ technique that pushes food into its mouth as it swims forward with its mouth open. They also use a suction technique in which they open their mouths and suck in large volumes of water which is then expelled through their gills. In both types of feeding they use their filter pads to separate food from water. These pads are black sieve-like structures that are believed to be modified gill rakers.
Despite their enormous size Whale Sharks don’t pose a significant threat to humans. They are docile and sometimes curious about divers or swimmers who are in the water with them.
Whale Sharks are highly valued on international markets. Demand for their meat, fins and oil remains a threat to the species, particularly from unregulated fisheries. They are victims of bycatch while unregulated whaleshark tourism presents a disruptive threat to their feeding and can be injured by boat propellers. According to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) whale shark populations have halved in the last 75 years.