Hold your seahorses, cowboy! Frankly, this is a discussion you wouldn’t want to miss––one that revolves around the biggest fish in the world: the Whale Shark! Before anything else, I’ll have you know that I’ve already read your mind and here’s the answer to your question. Whale Sharks are, indeed, sharks. This makes them fish and not mammals. However, if you’re swimming with the waves and happen to come across these humungous creatures, don’t be afraid. These gentle giants won’t be swallowing you whole.
What do they look like?
Typically, sharks boast of an almost torpedo-like body with the majority having pointed snouts (shoutout to all the hammerheads out there, you deserve recognition too). As for the Whale Sharks, their heads are flattened with their wide mouths located at the front. If the size isn’t enough of a distinction, then the spots on their dorsal surfaces would be good benchmarks to look out for as well.
Speaking of size, Whale Sharks can grow as long as 40 feet. On average, this beast of a fish lengthens to around 25 feet. Don’t just mind how long they are, too, because Whale Sharks can weigh up to 15 tons! To give you something to think about, they’re basically a whole half of a basketball court and two to three elephants heavy.
All Whale Sharks are different. They have very distinct and unique markings like stripes and dots on their thick skin. If anything, they’re more like a human’s thumbprints in terms of uniqueness––something that could be of use for identification by marine biologists and scientists.
Are they dangerous?
A question that must be asked for the curious minds, I see. Rest assured that despite their ginormous size, Whale Sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean. Just because they have “sharks” in their names doesn’t mean they’ll be hunting for you like Jaws and the Megalodon. In fact, they’re not necessarily violent meat-eaters in the first place––they’re filter feeders.
They love their krills, small squids, small schools of fish, and other vertebrates. However, nothing beats their love for planktons. They’re like what burgers and hotdogs are to Americans––they’re inseparable!
Living up to their honorary “gentle giant” title, Whale Sharks are calm and docile creatures. They’re so tame that they even allow swimmers and tourists to swim up close and personal alongside them––sometimes even hitching a ride if you’re a true daredevil. However, hitch riding, feeding, and even getting too close to the Whale Sharks are discouraged. Naturally, they’re harmless––but inexperienced swimmers and divers should be careful of its big strong tail to avoid being injured. Unfortunately, if you do care for your body and want to avoid injuries, the next best thing to experience is Gage Beasley’s very own full-size Whale Shark stuffed plush toy! Fortunately, you don’t have to get an aquarium the size of the ocean. Rather, this 150cm plushie lays beside you on your bed or on top of your collection. This one doesn’t even need to be fed its favorite plankton meal––just a good rub-rub and a couple of cuddles would do the trick.
Gage Beasley’s Full-Size Whale Shark Stuffed Plush Toy
If the size doesn’t matter but details do, then Gage Beasley’s lifelike Whale Shark plush toy should be the bed companion for you! This one encapsulates the spotted giant very accurately. It’s as if all there’s left to do is to throw it in the ocean and wait for its Whale Shark parents to pick it up.
Gage Beasley’s Lifelike Whale Shark Stuffed Plush Toy
It’s the perfect gift for your kids who love the ocean, animals, or just plushies in general! With the huge 150cm plushie by your side, I doubt any ghosts would want to scare you in the middle of the night.
How do they reproduce?
Long ago, Whale Sharks were considered oviparous––animals that lay their eggs with no form of embryonic development happening inside the mother. This is because, in 1953, an egg measuring 36 cm was discovered in the Gulf of Mexico and was assumed to be from that of a Whale Shark. As years went by, it was then discovered that pregnant females carry hundreds of pups. From then on, Whale Sharks were under the ovoviviparous category––animals who give birth by means of eggs that are hatched inside the body of the parent. Bet you didn’t expect that animal science lesson, eh? These newborns, on average, reach up to 60 cm the time they’ve been given birth to.
Whale Sharks reach sexual maturity at 30 years old and can live up to 100-150 years old. They must be very wise, yes?
What are their Distribution and Conservation Status?
Generally speaking, Whale Sharks are solitary creatures––those who spend a majority of their lives alone with the exception of mating and raising their newborns. During certain seasons where planktons are abundant, the possibility of seeing Whale Sharks in groups is higher. For example, from March to May, these groups may venture off to Western Australia.
Compare to other sea animals, Whale Sharks are slow swimmers––moving at no more than 5 kilometers per hour. Yes, a mere 5 kilometers in 60 minutes. You could honestly walk, reach the same distance, and have 10 minutes to spare. They move not just with their tails but by moving the majority of their body from side to side––a trait almost all sharks share.
Whale Sharks are so well-known that they have marine eco-tourism programs centered around them in countries like Australia, the Maldives, the Philippines, and Belize. As has been said, their tails have cause serious injuries. To prevent that from happening, and a lot more, the aforementioned countries have developed interaction guidelines to enforce both the safety of the gentle giants and the people.
Unfortunately, it’s been listed as a vulnerable species because of harpoon fishing in Southeast Asia as well as incidental capture in a number of fisheries.
Beautiful, isn’t it? To have gentle giants like these Whale Sharks are a blessing to the ocean. Though there are certain parameters to follow when around them, seeing their size and rapid 5kph speed would just leave you speechless. Remember, though, that these Whale Sharks are natural treasures. Be it in real life or in plushie form. They’re part of the large ecosystem of the ocean––making them just as important as people on land. Here’s to admiring the gentle giants!