Do not let the name “whale” fool you, as the whale shark is not actually a whale, but it is the biggest fish and the biggest shark that we can presently find in our blue oceans. This giant lives its life mainly alone, roaming the oceans for food, migrating extremely large distances to feed itself.
As the plankton is their main food supply, large numbers of whale sharks have been found in locations where this food was abundant, making them an interesting tourist attraction. They enjoy the warm and tropical temperate seas, around the Ecuador belt, from 30 degrees N to 35 degrees S. Exceptions have been recorded in the Mediterranean seas.
The reason why these sharks have been named whales is the enormous size of their bodies. An average length of this giant is around 10 m (32 ft) and weight around 9.000 kg (20.000 lbs). The largest specimen ever recorded was captured in 1947 near Karachi, Pakistan and was 12.65 m long (41,50 ft) and weighed over 21.500 kg ( 47.000 lbs). Of course, there are some fishermen’s stories of whale sharks with lengths over 18 m (59 ft) and weight over 45.500 kg (100.000 lbs), but there are no scientific records to back them up.
Their mouth is proportional to their size. It can be as wide as 1.5 m (4.9 ft), and it is positioned in front of their head, unlike other species of sharks that have the mouth underside of their head. Their big head is wide and flat, with a rounded snout. They have 2 dorsal fins (on their back) and 2 pectoral fins (on their side). Similar to other sharks, their top tail fin is larger than the lower fin. Random stripes and dots of a light-yellow color cover their entire body, which has a dark gray skin.
Like most other sharks, the male is larger in size than the female, and they reach sexually maturity at around 30 years old. They can live up to 100-150 years old.
The whale sharks have a unique characteristic, similar to our fingerprints, that allows individual sharks to be identified. Located on their side, behind their head and above the front side fins, they have a unique pattern of spots. This has helped WWF organizations to tag, using photographs, over 458 whale sharks in the waters around the Philippines.