There are so many wondrous creatures inhabiting our world. Each creature is precious and unique in its own way; playing a pivotal role in the food chain and overall structure of Earth. Some are plant eaters, some are meat-eaters, and some eat both. Probably one of the most fascinating creatures in the animal kingdom has to be the whale shark.
The whale shark is an extremely unique creature for a number of reasons. Firstly, the shark holds many records for its sheer size within the animal kingdom. There have been common reports that these fish can be over 46 feet long and weighing at least 66,000 pounds. As you can tell, these creatures are massive!
These sharks are found in open waters of tropical oceans, and are rarely found in water below 22º C (72ºF). Their lifespan stretches about 70 years, and have been considered vulnerable to extinction. Probably the most fascinating statistic is that they are completely harmless to humans. That’s right, the whale shark diet is extremely unique given its size in the ocean.
The whale shark diet is very unique considering the creature’s sheer size and presence in the ocean. The whale shark is a filter feeder, one of only three known filter feeding shark species, the other two being the basking shark and the megamouth shark. It feeds on plankton, which includes copepods, krill, and fish eggs. The whale shark diet also consists of clouds of eggs during mass spawnings of fish and corals.
The shark has many rows of vestigial teeth, which play no role in feeding. Instead, feeding occurs in two ways. The first method is ram filtration, where the animal opens its mouth and swims forward, pushing water and food into the mouth. The second method is called active suction feeding, where the animal opens and closes its mouth, sucking in huge amounts of water which are then expelled through its gills.
In both types of consumption, the filter pads are used to separate the food from the water. These filter pads are black screen-like structures that are presumed to act as gill rakers, sifting the food from the water and making for a cleaner digestion. Food separation in whale sharks is possible due to cross-flow filtration. This process involves water traveling parallel to the filter pad surface, before passing to the outside of the creature. The denser food particles will then continue onward towards the back of the throat. This is a remarkable method of filtration that minimizes the likelihood of fouling the filter pad surface. Funny enough, the whale sharks have also been spotted coughing in the water, presumably to clear any build up of particles on the filter pad surface.
As we can see, the whale shark diet is a very clean process compared to other members of the shark family. Targeting concentrations of plankton and fish, the whale shark plays a major role in the aquatic ecosystem, making it even more unfortunate that these creatures are considered endangered to some degree. These gentle giants must be looked over and saved in order to sustain our planet’s circle of life.