The Whale Shark: The Largest Known Extant Fish in the World
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The Whale Shark: The Largest Known Extant Fish in the World

The Whale Shark: The Largest Known Extant Fish in the World
            Considered the largest living cartilaginous fish is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Representing the order Orectolobiformes the maximum recorded length of a measured specimen was 12.65 meters (41.50 ft) with the heaviest weighed at more than 36 tons (79,000 lbs). Mostly found in tropical and warm oceans, this type of shark is the only member of its genus (Rhincodon) and family (Rhincodontidae). Characterized by a pattern of pale yellow spots and stripe markings in its body, whale sharks prefer the open sea and reach a lifespan of 70 years. Origins of this species were traced back some 60 million years ago and an early sighting of this type of shark was first recorded in 1828 when a specimen was caught in Table Bay, South Africa. The creature gained its name owing to its physical characteristics suggesting the shape of a shark and the size of a whale. 

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Shark's mouth in comparison to a lady diver swimming alongside

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              The whale shark is noted for its docile behaviour when in contact with humans. Despite possessing a very large mouth with average size of 1.5 meters (4.9 ft), it feeds mainly on plankton and other microscopic plants and animals and doesn’t pose a threat of biting or swallowing a swimmer nearby. Scuba divers were known to have come closer to this creature and “play” with it without risk of having been rammed or whipped by its tail owing to a violent reaction against human presence (sad to say the early representatives of this species were harpooned to death by our kind, to be caught for closer investigation).

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               Whale sharks have rows of teeth which contribute rarely in their feeding habits. They suck mouthfuls of water containing planktons and micro-organisms and make use of dermal denticles which act as sieve to filter stuffs taken for food before expelling the volume of water taken in. They migrate to feed and to breed as confirmed by their sightings in places like Bay islands in Honduras, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, Red Sea, Western Australia, Belize and Mozambique among other places.

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               Taken as main attractions in marine life aquariums around the world, specimens had been kept in Japan (5), Taiwan (1), China (2) and USA (6) for both amusement and research purposes. Being targeted by commercial fishing in areas where they were most abundant and where their flesh were prized as a delicacy (considering their flesh have similarity in texture and taste to tofu, causing them to be dubbed “tufu sharks”) they were considered “vulnerable” (a category likely to become endangered) by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).


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Comments (11)

Excellent images! tweeted.

amazing work

Whale sharks are awesome.. so massive... however with creatures of this size taking them and putting them in aquariums.. is totally cruel.

I am loving your strange beast range! these whale sharks are really beautiful! look at the size of the mouth, could just swallow you whole! tweeted and dugg

I love these creatures, I would love to see one for real.


Very nice. Great pictures.

Oh my I really can't believe I could ever swim that close to one of those giants. But how magnificent

Excellent write and presentation Will! Very fasinating creature. I have watched a few documentries on these and am always intrigued that they are not a harmful shark to humans as most are. I had not realized they had existed for so long. Fab read as always and you have my vote tweet and facebook!

I saw a whale shark while on boat with my snorkel and mask. When I saw it I hesitated because of its size and missed the opportunity to swim with it. Maybe next time.

Amazing creatures... and surprising we humans haven't scared them silly yet...