Scientific Name: Rhincodon typus
Common Name: Whale Shark, Whaling Shark, and Leviathan Shark
Distribution and Habitat: The Whale Shark is a known Tropical and warm water species primarily seen offshore. However Whale sharks are known to be found near drop off coastal areas, lagoons, coral atolls, deep estuaries, and rivers. The whale shark is an extremely migratory species traveling many miles a day in pursuit of schooling fishes and marine organisms. The whale shark has been witnessed at depths of up to 4,500 feet (1,300 meters), but primarily feeds at the oceans surface. The Whale shark travels all warm coastal waters of Africa, Australia, India, Honduras, the Philippines, Mexico and Central America, South America, Lower Atlantic and Pacific United States. These sharks seem to gather in great numbers of the Yucatan Coast and thorough out Mexican Tropical waters. They are also seen during summer months near the East and West Flower Garden Banks Sanctuary in the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Anatomy and Appearance: The size of a Whale shark is its most astonishing feature by far. It is the largest non-cetacean animal in the world and average adult sizes are estimated at 9.7 meters (31.82 feet) and weigh close to 9 tonnes or 18,000 lbs. Although huge specimens of up to 42 feet (12.65 meters) and 21.5 tonnes (47,000 lbs) are known to exist, some claim to have seen sharks of this species reach over 18 meters (60 feet) and weigh over 45.5 tonnes (100,000 lbs). One report even suggests a shark reaching up to 22 meters in length (70 feet long). Whale sharks are also known for their wide mouths (up to 1.5 meters or 5 feet) and have between 300 to 350 rows of minute teeth. Whale sharks also play host to 10 filter pads which they use to ingest krill, shrimps, and small fishes. The whale shark's head is extremely square and flat and their eyes are extremely small for their large body size. Whale sharks are usually a range of deep blue to grey on their dorsal and a vivid white on their ventral. They are also dotted with pale yellow and white spots aligned in long stripes. The Whale shark also has three large ridges along its back and sides which is thought to help it during long migration swims.
Diet, Hunting and Feeding Behavior: The Whale shark is a filter feeder meaning that its main food sources include: macro algae, plankton, krill, crab larvae, small squid, small fishes, and fish spawn clouds. The Whale shark is an active hunter however and seeks out its prey rather than just swimming and filtering the water it encounters. It often finds clouds of prey moving together in mass and then ambushes the cloud while sucking water into its mouth to then filter out any prey items. Whale sharks are also known to cough after eating which is thought to help clean their filter pads of indigestible debris or particles. The Whale shark is one of only three known large filter feeding species, the two others being (The Basking Shark and The rare Megamouth Shark). Whale sharks are a non aggressive species and pose little danger to divers or swimmers. Often the only injury a Whale shark may inflict is inadvertently by slapping swimmers or divers who get to close with its massive caudal fin. Young Whale sharks are even known to exhibit play behavior towards divers and swimmers and seem to enjoy being rubbed and touched.
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