Whale Shark – Rhincodon typus
The Whale Shark is a species of the order of the Carpet Sharks (Orectolobiformes) and thus belongs to the subclass of the Elasmobranchii. Rhincodon typus is the only species in the genus and family of Whale Sharks. It was first described by Smith in 1828.
In the article Sharks in the Canary Islands you will find more species and information about the top hunters of the seas.
Impressive Facts about the Whale Shark
- with 13,7m it is the biggest fish, because real whales are mammals
- its skin can grow up to 15cm thick, the thickest of all living beings on earth
- the whale shark can live for up to 100 years
- Rhincodon typus undertakes huge migrations. An animal was pursued for over 2 years on a journey from Panama to Mariana Trench near the Philippines. It covered about 20,000 km.
Description, Features & Anatomy
Whale Sharks have a grey, brownish or bluish colour, whereby the belly is always white. White spots and lines are scattered on the back and flanks.
The mouth is flatter than the body and extends over the entire width of the head. Its 3600 teeth are distributed over more than 300 rows.
The first dorsal fin of Rhincodon typus stands very far back. The pectoral fins are long and pointed.
The largest fish measured so far was 13.7m long. Furthermore the whale shark can reach a weight of 12t.
Habitat, Distribution, Map & Occurrence
Rhincodon typus lives in open water, where it prefers temperatures of 21 to 25°C. Although they spend most of their time in shallow water, they can reach diving depths of 1000m.
That you see a Whale Shark on the Canary Islands is really, really, really superrare! If it happens to you, it’s considered like winning in a lottery. There is perhaps one or two sightings per year in the Canary Islands. I guess most of the luck is on El Hierro.
Its general range is the tropical and subtropical sea areas of our planet. Mostly these are places with seasonal plankton blooms. There is a special Whale Shark season for example in Mexico, Australia, the coasts of Africa, the Seychelles and in Southeast Asia.
Lifestyle & Nutrition
The Whale Shark is a loner. Large groups of them rarely come together. If then it usually has something to do with a certain food supply.
It was observed that the male fish cover considerable distances, which is rather less the case with the females.
Since Rhincodon typus has to expect hardly an attack they are quite slow animals. At 5km/h they swim the seas at a nudibranch speed.
Its diet consists of plankton, small fish and other microorganisms. It is absolutely harmless to humans.
Reproduction & Development
Not much is known about the reproductive behaviour of the whale shark itself. It is known that they become sexually mature between the ages of 10 and 30. I find it extremely interesting that the females carry up to 300 fertilized eggs, which are in different stages of development. Furthermore, the examination of a female had shown that all her offspring came from the same whale shark father! It is assumed that the females store the sperm and fertilize their eggs in due time, so that they may even be monogamous. They seem to be able to control the development of the eggs and give birth to one or part of their young at a suitable moment.
Rhincodon typus gives birth to its young alive. The smallest sighted animal so far was only 40cm tall.
It is assumed that the young spend much time in the deeper sea regions at the beginning of their life.