Fascinating Whale Sharks Facts

Whale sharks are the largest known living species of shark, growing up to 41.5 feet in length and weighing up to 30 tons. These gentle giants are docile filter fish feed on plankton. Whale sharks are amazing creatures, here are some fascinating whale shark facts.


  • Whale sharks are named for their large size, comparable only to whales.

  • They are the only member of the rhincodontidae family of sharks.

  • Whales shark are only one of three shark species that feed on plankton. The other two are the basking shark and the megamouth shark.

  • As a species whale sharks are 60 million years old. Though individually, their life expectancy is between 70-100 years.

  • Whales sharks are highly migratory but move very slowly, cruising at 2.3 miles per hour.

  • One whale shark was tracked as migrating 8000 miles.

  • Whale sharks tend to live most of their lives alone. Though they have occasionally been seen in large groups.

  • Whale sharks often travel with schools of tuna.

  • Though they prefer to stay near the surface, whale sharks can dive up to 5000 feet below the surface.

  • Whale sharks can feed vertically, a behavior known as standing on their tail.

  • Unlike other sharks that use their tails to swim, whale sharks swim by moving their bodies side to side.

  • Whale sharks prefer to live in warm, tropical environments. They thrive in water that is around 70 degrees fahrenheit.

  • Whale sharks tend to be found in open and coastal waters along the 30 latitudinal line and also have been known to enter the mouths of rivers and shallow lagoons.

  • Adult whales sharks have no natural predators. The only threat to their survival is human activity. Although blue sharks and blue marlins have been known to prey on young whale sharks.

  • They swim close to the surface with their mouths open to filter out plankton.

  • Whale sharks have massive mouth that can grow to over 4.9 feet wide.

  • Their mouths have 300 to 350 rows containing up to 4000 tiny teeth that are not used in eating.

  • They filter the water by sucking in large amounts through their mouths and expelling the rest out of their gills.

  • Unlike basking sharks, they also filter plankton through a method called ram feeding. So it can eat plankton even when stationary.

  • Whale sharks filter an average of 1500 gallons of water an every hour.

  • They have sensory cells located along their naval grooves that help them detect when there is prey in the water.

  • If there is not enough plankton to eat, whale sharks will supplement their diet with squid or small fish like sardines, small tuna, and anchovies.

  • Since they rarely consume fish. Small fish like remoras, pilot fish, and juvenile golden trevallies will hitch a ride on a whale shark. You can often see them hanging on to the body of the whale shark, riding in the water next to the shark, or even inside of its mouth.

  • Whale sharks have five gills on each side of their body.

  • Like most sharks, whale sharks have to keep swimming in order to breath.

  • Whale sharks are grey with yellow spots and stripes that are as unique in pattern as fingerprints are to humans. They also have smooth white bellies.

  • Their particular skin pattern is known as countershading, which acts as a form of camouflage.

  • Whale shark skin is nearly six inches thick.

  • Whale sharks have two dorsal fins and pectoral fins. They also have fins on their tails in their youth.

  • Whale sharks tend to breed in warm waters and with multiple partners.

  • Female whale sharks grow larger than male whale sharks.

  • Males have “claspers” a type of reproductive organ that delivers semen to the female by clasping on to her.

  • Maturing late, whale sharks do not begin mating until they are 30 years old.

  • Every Spring large numbers of whale sharks gather off the central western coast of Australia, along the continental shelf. Researchers believe that this is the location of their mating grounds.

  • Whales sharks are ovoviviparous, which means they gestate in eggs inside of the womb until they are born.

  • Female whale sharks have unusual breeding habits, instead of birthing a litter at a time, they will birth several pups over a long period of time.

  • Whale sharks can be pregnant with hundreds of pups at a time.

  • The first documented pregnant whale shark was found with a little or 300 pups inside of her belly.

  • Pups are born once they’ve reached maturity, measuring 16 to 24 inches in length.

  • Only 10% of all whale shark pups born make it to maturity.

  • Whales sharks have never attacked humans. In fact they are so docile they will often swim and play with divers. Swimming with whale sharks is a very popular tourist activity.

  • The biggest threat to whale sharks is human activity.

  • Whale sharks are often hunted for their fins which is used in traditional chinese medicine and as part of the popular shark fin soup.

  • Whale sharks are often threatened by pollution. When filtering they can suck up tiny bits of plastic and trash that lodge in their digestive tract, killing them.

  • They are not scared of boats, so they can often be injury or killed by swimming too close.

  • Whale sharks are a protected species in 13 of the 100 countries they visit every year.

These gentle giants are fascinating creatures. However, even with all these whale shark facts, still very little is known about the species. Since they are highly migratory it is hard to consistently track their behaviors. Luckily for us, there are new research efforts everyday so we can learn more about these wonderful creatures.

VIDEO: Swimming With Whale Sharks