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Whale Shark | Maldives Marine Life
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Maldives Marine Life

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest of all fish species alive today.  A filter-feeder, the whale shark feeds mainly on plankton and can grow to lengths of 40 feet, and can weigh up to 47,000 pounds.  The whale shark is a distinctive fish, dark in colour with white spotted patterns on its back and is a favourite among scuba divers and snorkelers, due to its enormous size and calm, docile nature.


Whale Shark Frontal View

Whale Shark Habitat

Whale shark are found throughout tropical and sub-tropical oceans all around the world.  The whale shark is a big attraction for scuba divers, and places famous for whale shark encounters include the Maldives, the Bay Islands of Honduras, Belize and Mexico.  In the Maldives, whale sharks can be found throughout the year, primarily on the outer reef of the South Ari Atoll, where snorkelers gather every day to try and swim with them.

Whale Shark Appearance

The whale shark's mouth can reach an amazing five feet in width, and contains hundreds of rows of tiny teeth.  The whale shark has five sets of gills, all of which are huge.  The fish’s spots are unique to each animal, and no two whale shark are the same.  In fact, the pattern of spots is like the fingerprint of a human, and can be used to identify each individual whale shark.



Whale Shark with Snorkeler

Whale Shark Diet

Whale shark are filter feeders, which is unusual for sharks.  Together with the Basking Shark and the Megamouth Shark, these are the only filter feeding sharks in existence.  As a filter feeds, the whale shark feeds mainly on algae, plankton, larvae and small fish.  The whale shark does not use its teeth to feed, but rather its food simply glides through the enormous fish’s gills.

Whale Shark Behaviour towards Scuba Divers

The whale shark is a non-aggressive creature that poses no threat to swimmers, snorkelers or scuba divers.  Whale sharks are in fact quite playful towards scuba divers and snorkelers.  Of course, divers should avoid swimming into the Shark’s mouth or getting hit by the fish’s tail, which could indeed cause some damage to the person.

Whale Shark Reproduction

Little is known of the whale shark's reproductive habits.  They are believed to become sexually mature at around 30 years and can live until they are about 80 years old.  Whale shark young are known as pups.  In each whale shark mother, there can be hundreds, even thousands of eggs, but not all of them will develop into pups, rather they will be eaten by the other eggs.  Baby Whale Sharks are usually about 2 feet long at birth.  The smallest whale shark on record was 15 inches long.



Whale Shark Tail

Threats to Whale Sharks

The whale shark is threatened by commercial fishing practices.  Because there are no records of populations of whale sharks, it is not known whether the whale shark is endangered, but the International Union for the Conservation of Nature considers the fish to be “vulnerable”.  In the Maldives, the fishing of whale sharks has been banned.  The sale of shark products is also illegal in the Maldives.