The whale shark is famous for being the largest fish that has ever lived. It’s much smaller than many whales, but whales are mammals. Adults can reach lengths of up to 60 feet and weigh up to 10 tons. Some have measured an unbelievable 75 feet long when captured.
Female whale sharks are larger than the males, which grow to approximately two-thirds the period of the females. This is true for many other large sharks, particularly those longer than 10 feet.
Yet they are not killers. In fact it is one of the most docile animals in the sea. Though it’s a shark, it’s a filter feeder; it has no teeth. The whale shark’s big mouth can encircle a school of fish or fish, which are filtered out of the water as it passes through a fine net of gill rakers in the back of their mouth.
Whale sharks usually swim alone. They’re so slow that lots of fish will follow behind them for food and protection. Few fish in the sea are eager to tackle it, however peaceful it might be. Underwater divers that are lucky enough to encounter this rare fish have managed to hitch rides on their giant dorsal fin.
Whale sharks often swim lazily at the surface where, in earlier times, they were harpooned and brought ashore. In the 1940s, chemists discovered how to produce vitamin A in the laboratory so, suddenly, there was no requirement for the killings. By then many populations of the fish had diminished, so the chemists may have saved them from oblivion. Some sharks continue to be fished for food, but the whale shark is tough and not good eating.