How long do they live? Whale sharks can live over 100 years [1]. The more I learn about aquatic animals, the more I realize that there is still so much left to learn.

Where are they found? Tropical and temperate oceans all over the world. See figure 1.

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Figure. The range of Whale sharks. So my theory that cold water is best just got shot down.

What do they eat? Whale sharks are filter feeders and take in plankton and small fish for nutrition[1].

What do they look like? They are considered the largest fish in the world and can grow to be over 62 feet long and almost 34 tons…Let me repeat that in case you missed it: 34 tons [2]. They display light spots and stripes along the gray portion of their bodies, see figures 2, 3, and 4.

rhincodon_typus_fgbnms
Figure 2. Whale shark.
male_whale_shark_at_georgia_aquarium
Figure 3. Whale shark in the Atlanta Aquarium in Georgia, USA.
whaleshark_scale
Figure 4. Size comparison, just in case you missed that 34 tons up there.

How do they reproduce? Whale sharks are ovoviviparous. Unfortunately, there’s not much information about the reproductive cycle or senescence of this species. It has been estimated that they do not reach sexual maturity until 22 to 30 years of age [1].

How do scientists know how old they are? Growth rate and size estimations [1].

So what are we lacking? It’s Tuesday and therefore it’s a bullet point kind of night.

  • We are in serious need of age verification techniques and age-related data.
  • It looks like the complete nuclear genome is available for Rhincodon typus on the NCBI website.
  • Reproductive senescence information is non-existent. Given that the estimated age of maturity is 30 years, this may be a species with negligible senescence.

Conservation status: Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable on the IUCN website [3]. Their main threats are humans catching them as by-catch in commercial fisheries and being hit by marine vessels. They were once hunted (as most large ocean creatures), but thanks to world wide protection, they are rarely harpooned in the face anymore. Rarely was the key word in that previous sentence.

Please contact me if you would like to contribute any relevant data to this website.

  1. Australian Government Department of Environment and Energy.

    Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) Issues Paper. Department of the Environment and Heritage, May 2005. Accessed 11/8/2016.

  2. Animal Diversity Web. Whale shark. Accessed 11/8/2016. http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Rhincodon_typus/#lifespan_longevity
  3. Pierce, S.J. & Norman, B. 2016. Rhincodon typus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T19488A2365291. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-1.RLTS.T19488A2365291.en. Accessed 11/8/2016.