Friday, December 9, 2011

The Whale Shark

Whale shark (Rhincodon typus) with a diver
The Whale Shark is the worlds largest shark. It will occasionally hit a diver with its tail on accident, but other than that it is mostly harmless to humans.

 The easiest way to identify a whale shark is by its massive size.  It is the largest fish in the ocean. It has dark greenish to brownish gray skin covered with white or yellowish spots and irregular dark and light bars. It has a huge mouth that can reach 4 feet (1.4 meters) wide.  The mouth is in front of the head, instead of below the head like it is in most sharks. It has 5 gills and small eyes.

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Chondrichtyes
Subclass: Elasmobranchii
Order: Orectolobiformes
Family: Rhincodontidae
Genus: Rhincodon
Species: typus

Similar Species and Other Family Members:
The whale shark is the only member of the family Rhincodontidae.  Its massive size and  striking markings make it easy to distinguish from other sharks.

The whale shark is ovoviviparous (the eggs are nourished by a yolk, but the mother keeps them inside her body until they run out of food from the yolk and then they are born live). Their size at birth is 21 to 25 inches (55 to 64 centimeters). Whale sharks are sexually mature at 30 years. It is thought that one brood can contain up to 300 young!
A man holding a young whale shark.
The whale shark can reach lengths of up to 45 feet ( 13.7 meters)! It can weigh up to 30 tons (33 metric tons).

 The whale shark lives mainly on plankton, but will also eat small squids and bony fishes.

Here is a good image of  whale shark teeth. 

Habitat and Distribution:
Whale sharks are found in warm waters all around the world. They are not, however, found in the Mediterranean Sea. Large populations of whale sharks are often found near Ningaloo Reef, Australia.

Life Span:
The whale shark may live up to 150 years.

Conservation Status:
The whale shark is now listed as a threatened species.

note: I do not own any of these pictures

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