The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a slow-moving, filter-feeding fish. The name “whale shark” refers to the fish’s size. It is as big as a whale.
It is the largest-known living fish in the world.
The whale shark is a migratory species found in tropical parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. It is rarely found in water below 21°C. In India, the whale shark is found across our coastline, but most frequent sightings have been reported in offshore Gujarat.
Whale sharks are carpet sharks. Their skin is dark grey in colour with a white belly marked with pale grey or white spots and stripes, which are unique to each shark.
Unlike other sharks, whale sharks’ mouths are located at the front of the head and can contain over 300 rows of tiny teeth and 20 filter pads, which they use to filter feed.
A study stated that on average, a whale shark can reach 8 to 9 metres (26 to 30 feet) in length. Females are much larger, reaching a length of 14 to 21.9 metres (46 to 72 feet).
A fully adult whale shark can weigh anywhere between 18,000 and 21,000 kg.
The whale shark is one of only three known filter-feeding shark species.
It mostly feeds on planktons, krill, fish eggs, crab larvae, small fishes and squids. It also feeds on clouds of eggs during mass spawning of fish and corals.
It has two distinct subpopulations—an Atlantic subpopulation and an Indo-Pacific subpopulation.
It is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Species.
Other than biological challenges, the species is impacted by fisheries, catch losses, vessel strikes, oil spills, and climate change. Hundreds are illegally killed every year in China for their fins, skins and oil.
Since 2004, Wildlife Trust of India has launched a widely acclaimed Whale Shark Campaign, changing people’s perception of the whale shark along the Western coast of India.
Today, the local ‘Friends of Vhali’ group in Gujarat, supported by WTI, is voluntarily rescuing whale sharks and raising awareness within communities.
WTI also has campaigns running across other whale shark sites such as Karnataka, Kerala and Lakshadweep.
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