Although it is one of the most famous sharks, the great white shark is not the biggest shark in the world. That “prestigious title” belongs to the whale shark (lat. Rhincodon typus).This species can reach the weight of 22 tons and the length of nearly 13 meters, which was the length of the largest measured individual whale shark (it was caught in Pakistan, in 1947).
This species lives in the open sea in tropical and warm waters. They can be found in Western Australia, near the Philippines, in the Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia and in the southern and eastern parts of South Africa. 1849. a military doctor Andrew Smith published a more detailed description of the whale shark.
The name “whale” comes from its physiology because it is large as a whale. But at the same time it is a filter feeder. Because it is a filter feeder its mouth can be up to 1,5 meters wide and may have between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth. Five large pairs of gills are placed on the mostly gray body with a white belly.
What is very interesting is the so-called “checkerboard” on their skin, which contains a pale yellow spots and stripes. This is very important for counting their population, because each whale shark has a different “checkerboard”.
Their respiratory system is made of so-called spiracles located just behind the front of its wide head with small eyes. It feeds with plankton, krill, macro-algae, small squid and other aquatic vertebrates.
Their mode of reproduction is called ovoviviparity. This means that eggs with embryos are retained within the mother’s body until they are ready to hatch. They are born alive and they are usually between 40 and 60 centimeters long.
Although it is the largest among its kind, the whale shark is not the most dangerous one. On the contrary, certain places in which they live have become real tourist attractions, thanks to their clemency (for example, Ningalo Reef in Australia, which is known for its ”Swim with sharks” program.)
It is interesting to mention that the smallest living specimen of the whale shark was only 38 centimeters long.