Is it a whale? Is it a shark? What exactly is the Whale Shark? The Whale Shark is actually a shark. It is the largest fish in the world! These beautiful, majestic creatures are generally between 10 and 32 feet long as adults and can weigh upwards of 11 tons. Unlike what people normally think about shark’s diet and teeth, the Whale Shark is a filter feeder and eats Zooplankton such as shrimp, fish eggs, krill, jellies, as well as other small fish. While Whale Sharks do have about 300 rows of tiny teeth inside their mouth, they are not thought to have any function in their eating. Compared to the size of their mouth (can be up to 4 feet wide) their throat is only about the size of a quarter.
Like Manta Rays, Whale Sharks are ovoviviparous. An embryo is formed within an egg and then is hatched inside the female’s uterus. When born, full-formed baby Whale Sharks are released into the ocean and are about 21-25 inches long. While little is known about their litters. However, the only one ever documented was over 300 pups.
Protecting The Whale Shark
Whale Sharks are grey with white spots. Like human fingerprints, each Whale Shark has its own unique dot pattern. This is how researchers can identify individuals. Organizations like Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective (HURC) based here in Kona, Hawaii have been working to research and identify these endangered animals. The biggest threats to this species are directed fisheries, fisheries bycatch and vessel strikes. Numerous conservation efforts have been made to limit or end the fishing of Whale Sharks.
Hawaiian Whale Shark
These gentle giants are considered migratory animals. While they are mostly solitary, they have been known to gather in groups for food. Whale Sharks can be found in all the world’s tropical and temperate ocean waters, which means they have been spotted in our Hawai’i waters! While not a common sight, HURC has identified over 250 individual Whale Sharks throughout Hawaiian waters. HURC compares its ID database to other worldwide Whale Shark identification databases to look for common sharks to try and discover migratory patterns. To date, no Hawaiian identified Whale Shark has been identified anywhere else in the world. HURC and other Whale Shark conservation organizations continue their research to find out the many ‘why’ questions that still exist about this species.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a Whale Shark while in our Hawaiian waters, try and get a clear photo of both sides of the critter. If you send the photos to Hawaii Uncharted Research Collective and the animal has not been identified before you get to name the Whale Shark! You can go to their website and see all the funny, creative and beautiful names others have come up with, such as Spotty McSpotface, Whalliam Sharkspeare, and ‘Ohi’a.
Jack’s Diving Locker’s Advanced Long-Range trip is a great opportunity to cruise for large ocean critters such as the Whale Shark. The longer day means there is more time to look for and spend time with these animals. You also cover more ocean ground during this trip to increase your chances of spotting a Whale Shark, or Pilot Whale, or Hammerhead, or….. Call us today to sign up!