Whale Shark

Marine Creature:  Whale Shark

Kindly compiled by David Robinson of Sharkwatch Arabia & The Qatar Whale Shark Research Project

ws 1General Description

Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest fish in the sea.

Distribution

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Whale Shark ©David Robinson

Whale sharks are found at worldwide locations in tropical or warm temperate waters

Interesting Facts

The dermal layer of a whale shark can be up to 14cm thick, under the skin there is a thick layer of gelatinous tissue that helps to protect the whale shark from injury.

Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that they produce eggs that develop inside the mother. The young then hatch out of the egg still inside the mother and then the mother later gives birth to them.

  • Lifespan: Unconfirmed
  • Size: 12m
  • Food: Zooplankton
Whale Shark © David Robinson

Whale Shark © David Robinson

Reproduction

One mature female that was caught off the coast of Taiwan was found to have 304 young inside of her, all at different stages of development, some ready for birth and some still developing inside egg cases. Genetic testing showed that it was probable that the offspring were all sired by the same male but as the offspring were all at different stages of development, that they were fertilised at different times. This suggests that female whale sharks can store sperm after mating to use for further fertilisation at a later stage.

Feeding & Hunting

Whale sharks are filter feeders, consuming huge amounts of zooplankton. They have different feeding strategies depending on the density of plankton they are feeding on.

Threats

Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. Certainly the largest threat to the whale shark is from over fishing.

Conservation Status & International Protection

International trade in whale sharks and whale shark parts are governed by CITES and some protection is afforded from countries that sign up to CMS. The importance of whale sharks as a tourist attraction is being seem around the word and many countries are offering them special protection as they are certainly more valuable alive than dead.

How can people help?

People can help by reporting encounters of whale sharks. In Arabia they can report at www.sharkwatcharabia.com or at www.whaleshark.org.au/photo-id-library/ which records whale shark encounters from all over the world.

Work or volunteer in marine conservation

Best places in the world to see these creatures:

Whale Shark ©David Robinson

Whale Shark ©David Robinson

Whale Shark ©David Robinson

Whale Shark ©David Robinson

  • Ningaloo Reef, Australia,
  • Holbox, Mexico
  • Gladden Spit, Belize
  • Tofo, Mozambique
  • Djibouti
  • Seychelles
  • Donsol, Philippines

Scientist Profile:  David Robinson

Organisation(s)

Sharkwatch Arabia & The Qatar Whale Shark Research Project

Year(s) Founded

2010

Funding bodies

Qatar Ministry of Environment,
Save our Seas Foundation (SOSF)

Description/Background of work

This is the first research project focussed on whale sharks in this region. Previously, no data has been collected on these amazing creatures and this project hopes to change that.

Importance of work

To protect an animal an understanding of how that animal utilises its environment is necessary. The ultimate goal of the project is to provide a scientific evaluation of the whale sharks in this region with a view to increased protection throughout the region.

www.sharkwatcharabia.com

 

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