A large, plankton-eating shark, Rhincodon typus,or the whale shark, is found in all tropical seas of the world. The largest known specimens are 50 ft (15 m) long, making them the largest fish in the world. The whale shark feeds largely on plankton, as well as on small fish and crustaceans. It is the only large shark with its mouth at the front of its head rather than on the underside. The whale shark's body is stout but streamlined, like that of a whale. It is dark brown above, with many white or yellow spots, and white or yellow below. The whale shark is a docile, torpid fish; it does not attack, even on provocation, but has been known to collide with boats. It is classified in the phylum Chordata , subphylum Vertebrata, class Chondrichthyes, order Selachii, family Rhincodontidae.
Class Chondrichthyes (or Selachii)
Subclass Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays)
Order Selachii (sharks)
Suborder Galeoidei (typical sharks)
Family Rhincodontidae (whale shark)
The largest of modern fishlike lower vertebrates. One species only (Rhincodon typus); is found in open waters of all oceans, mostly in tropics, but north to 42 N latitude (near New York) and south to 3355' S (Table Bay, South Africa). It is generally Sluggish and inoffensive.
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) and basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), resemble the baleen whales in feeding mode as well as in size. They feed exclusively or chiefly on minute passively drifting organisms (plankton). To remove these from the water and concentrate them, each of these species is equipped with a special straining apparatus analogous to baleen in whales. The basking shark has modified gill rakers, the whale shark elaborate spongy tissue supported by the gill arches. The whale shark also eats small, schooling fishes.
In oviparous (egg-laying) species, such as the whale shark, the eggs are enveloped in a horny shell. Usually equipped with tendrils for coiling around solid objects or with spikelike projections for anchoring in mud or sand. The egg cases of most species are more or less pillow-shaped.
An egg of a whale shark found in the Gulf of Mexico measured 30 centimetres (12 inches) long by about 14 centimetres (51/2 inches) wide and was eight centimetres (three inches) thick. Protected by the shell and nourished by the abundant yolk, the embryo of an oviparous species develops for 4 1/2 to 14 3/4 months before hatching
To see underwater photography of Whale Sharks up close - Click on the picture below
Whale Shark conservation:
Information from the Western Australia Deptartment of Fisheries government website about the Conservation guidelines enforced in Western Australian waters:
"Western Australia is privileged to be the only place in the world known to be visited by the mysterious whale shark (Rhincodon typus) on a regular basis.
Each year, just days after the mass spawning of corals on the Ningaloo Reef (near Exmouth) in March and April, whale sharks appear in the waters along the front of the reef, remaining for up to a month. It is thought that they come to feed on an explosion of marine life that feeds on the coral spawn.
Most of these visiting whale sharks are immature males. It remains an intriguing puzzle why this particular section of the population visits our coast.
Whale sharks will grow to over 12 metres in length, which is about the size of a large bus. These gentle ocean giants are often confused with whales because of their large size and feeding habits. They are, however, sharks, albeit the least fearsome of this group, and their closest relatives are the nurse and wobbegong sharks.
Whale sharks are not aggressive, and like the second largest of all sharks - the slightly smaller basking shark - cruise the oceans feeding on concentrations of zooplankton, small fish and squid. The whale shark's mouth contains 300 rows of tiny teeth, but ironically, they neither chew nor bite their food.
Instead, the sharks use a fine mesh of rakers attached to their gills to strain food from the water. These rakers are functionally similar to the baleen plates possessed by many whales.
Biologists have speculated that whale sharks feed by literally vacuuming food from the water. However, researchers at Ningaloo have observed that the sharks usually feed by actively swimming through a mass of zooplankton or small fish with their mouths wide open. Whale sharks have also been observed to hang vertically in the water and feed by sucking water into their mouths.
Very little is known about the reproduction of whale sharks, most information coming from a single egg found in the Gulf of Mexico. It is thought that the young develop in egg cases that are retained in the mother's body until hatching. Despite their large adult size, whale sharks are very small at birth, probably 40 to 50 centimetres.
Whale sharks occur world-wide in tropical and temperate seas and are thought to be highly migratory. However, there is little information currently available on this aspect of their behaviour.
Researchers have fitted a number of whale sharks at Ningaloo with "smart tags" that record the animal's location and depth over a long period of time. If, and when, these tags are recovered, they will provide a insight into the migratory habits of this species.
The Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM), which controls the Ningaloo Marine Park, has prepared log books for tourism operators who take divers out to swim with the whale sharks. The data from these logbooks will be used to build up profiles of individual sharks and migratory habits.
Tourism based on whale shark watching has increased dramatically in the last few years and Government agencies have taken steps to protect these magnificent animals. The Department of Fisheries and CALM have combined to declare an indefinite closed season for this species under the Fish Resources Management Act and the Wildlife Conservation Act.
Specific guidelines for human interaction with whale sharks are outlined in a brochure prepared by CALM. "
".....Is a non-profit organization with the objective to closely monitor the behavior and migration of the Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus). Our intent is to continually monitor, record and preserve the largest and possibly the oldest living fish for the purpose of studying the effects of global warming on migratory fish. Also, we strive to determine the effects of pollution to plankton feeding sea creatures.
This wonderful docile fish has had little research performed in the attempt to understand its behavior, longevity, reproduction, and benefits, due to its solitude.
Whale Shark Research Group will continue to make available to educational, scientific and concerned individuals the continual progress made in the research of the whale shark and its environment. We would like to track, possibly the oldest fish through generations. No other program gives people the ability to be as active in the compilation and tracking of a creature that we can name, know the age, and where it travels and have our children and our childrens children be able to be active in.
Individuals who would like to make tax deductible contributions can do so by outright contribution or become a member. Member! Whatever form of contribution, WSRG truly appreciates the generosity and will use the funds to benefit these special creatures.