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Whale Shark

Overview

  • Status
    Vulnerable
  • Scientific Name
    Rhincodon typus
  • Weight
    around 11 tons
  • Length
    around 40 feet
  • Habitats
    Oceans

The whale shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. These gentle marine giants roam the oceans around the globe, generally alone. However, large numbers of whale sharks often gather in areas with abundant plankton food—making them prime tourist attractions. Its enormous mouth (nearly five feet wide) engulfs large quantities of tiny plankton that it filters through its gills as it swims.

whale shark spots

Like human fingerprints, whale sharks have a unique pattern of spots which allow individual sharks to be identified. By taking photos and cataloguing them, WWF has identified 458 different whale sharks in the Philippines.

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Whale Shark

Why They Matter

  • Plankton eaters

    The whale shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. These gentle marine giants roam the oceans around the globe, generally alone. However, large numbers of whale sharks often gather in areas with abundant plankton food—making them prime tourist attractions.The distribution of whale sharks indicates the presence of plankton and the overall health of our oceans.

Threats

  • Extinction Risk Vulnerable
    1. EX
      Extinct

      No reasonable doubt that the last individual has died

    2. EW
      Extinct in the Wild

      Known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalised population

    3. CR
      Critically Endangered

      Facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the Wild

    4. EN
      Endangered

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    5. VU
      Vulnerable

      Facing a high risk of extinction in the Wild

    6. NT
      Near Threatened

      Likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future

    7. LC
      Least Concern

      Does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Near Threatened

Whale Shark

Whale shark meat on a drying rack. Pamilacan Island, Philippines.

Whale sharks are highly valued on international markets. Demand for their meat, fins and oil remains a threat to the species, particularly by unregulated fisheries. They are victims of bycatch, the accidental capture of non-target species in fishing gear. And whale shark tourism presents a threat to the species as it can interrupt their feeding and sharks can be injured by boat propellers.

What WWF Is Doing

Whale Shark

A WWF-supported ecotourism project that focuses on swimming with whale sharks (while following strict rules to avoid disturbing the animals) has brought a flourishing tourism industry to Donsol, an island town in the Philippines.

Helping and Improving Whale Shark Tourism

Donsol Bay, Philippines, attracts huge numbers of whale sharks because of the high levels of plankton found in its water. WWF has helped with whale shark tourism there since 1998. We continue to work to ensure whale sharks stay safe during the frequent interactions they have with people and tour boats.

As whale shark tourism is very popular in Mexico, we educate tourists on codes of conduct for swimming with sharks. We also raise awareness with tour boat operators about the movements of sharks, which has resulted in fewer boat collisions with the animals.

Scientific Research

Whale Shark Research

WWF experts continue to study shark habits and gather information in the Coral Triangle on individual sharks by using satellite tags, sonar devices and digital cameras. The information is used to create further protections for whale sharks.

Every whale shark has a unique pattern of spots and stripes on their skin, and WWF uses them to identify individual sharks. Divers photograph the animal right above their pectoral fins and behind their gill slits. The photos are fed into a computer database. In the Philippines, WWF has identified 458 individual whale sharks since 2007.

WWF has also placed satellite tags on 29 whale sharks. Most tagged sharks stay within 125 miles from shore. All spend most of their time below 150 feet, rarely rising to the surface to feed. These results indicate that whale sharks are highly mobile and are transient feeders.

WWF also supports whale shark studies to learn more about the population, their habitat use and migratory pathways in the waters surrounding Mafia Island, Coastal East Africa.

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