Largest sharks in the world – Whale shark

Posted on Apr 13, 2012 in Size

 

Whale shark

Whale shark photo: Marcel_Ekkel

 

Largest fish in the world

This huge shark lives in tropical and warm oceans and is not only the largest shark but also the largest fish alive today.

 

How big can it get?

The largest confirmed whale shark ever caught was just over 12 metres (41 feet) and weighed more than 21 tonnes. However anecdotal evidence from fisherman suggest these sharks can grow far larger.

 

What does it eat?

Schools of tiny fish, as well as crabs, shrimps and other small ocean creatures.

 

How does it hunt?

Like whales, the whale shark strains its food out of the water. It gulps the water into its enormous mouth where it passes over rows of strainers in its gills, called gill rakers. This means that, unlike unlike the great white, the whale shark does not require razor sharp teeth to rip its prey to pieces. Instead it has about 3,000 tiny teeth, arranged in about 300 rows in its jaws – making it not only the largest shark but the toothiest one too!

 

How dangerous?

Not all. These gentle giants have even been known to let the odd (brave) diver hitch a ride. That said, given their bus like dimensions whale sharks pay no attention to boats and expect them to get out of their way – not the other way round.

 

How many are left?

Unfortunately these gentle giants are an easy target for fisherman because they move slowly and swim close to the ocean’s surface. They are hunted with harpoons and their meat and fins fetch a high price on the international market – a single whale shark fin can fetch over £10,000. For these reasons they are now listed as an endangered species.

 

Anything else?

The spotted skin on the back of a whale shark is the thickest and toughest in the world and can be up to 6 inches (15cm) in thickness. The outer layer is covered in tiny tooth-like denticles. These denticles combined with ridges that run along its back make its skin phenomenally tough.  Alas it is still vulnerable to a harpoon strike and injury from passing boats.

 

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