There are so many fun facts about whale sharks that I was fortunate to learn about during my recent experiences with these majestic creatures. Whether you are planning to swim with whale sharks, watch them from shore or you simply want to learn more about these magnificent animals, you have come to the right place. Read on to learn about my favourite 15 fun facts about whale sharks…
Fun Facts about Whale Sharks
Did you know Whale Sharks have teeth in their eyes? Yup, that’s right! In this article, we’ll dive into 15 fun facts about whale sharks. From their enormous size to their unique spot patterns, they are a marvel to discover.
But that’s not all; you will also learn how they give birth to live baby sharks without laying eggs. So, get ready for an adventurous dive to discover more about these water giants.
Let’s start with one of the most intriguing fun facts about whale sharks – they are not whales at all! In fact, they’re more like other sharks, such as the basking and mako sharks. So, what makes them special? Well, these massive fish can be as big as whales and, like baleen whales, filter-feed to eat. But here’s the thing, they have cartilage instead of bones, which makes them true sharks.
These incredible creatures thrive in warm waters worldwide, from the western Atlantic Ocean – stretching from New York in the United States to central Brazil – to the eastern Atlantic near Senegal, Mauritania, and Cape Verde. You can spot them in the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific.
The species was first discovered in April 1828 after a 4.6-meter (15-foot) whale shark was harpooned in Table Bay, South Africa. This remarkable find was described by a military doctor named Andrew Smith.
Now let’s talk about another fact from our list of fun facts about whale sharks – their incredible size. These gentle giants of the ocean are ‘BIG’ big. Imagine a school bus swimming in the sea – that’s how huge they can get!
As the largest fish in the world, they definitely make a splash with their impressive size. But just how big are they? Some whale sharks can grow as long as 40 feet or more. That’s taller than a giraffe and longer than two cars parked end to end.
3. They Have a Lifespan Of Up to 130 Years
These majestic creatures are not just big; they’re also incredibly old. In the past, scientists estimated their life span to be around 70 to 100 years, using growth rings from their vertebrae. But recent studies have unveiled even more astonishing findings.
Using tape measures, lasers, cameras, and clever math, researchers now believe these spotted giants can live up to 130 years. Can you believe it?
That makes them one of the longest-living sea creatures on our planet. And that’s exactly why I’ve ranked this fact as the third on our list of fun facts about whale sharks. Just imagine – a whale shark swimming gracefully for over a century, seeing how the world changes around them.
Exciting new discoveries have emerged about the incredible whale sharks, the biggest fish on Earth. Scientists found that female whale sharks grow slower but reach a much larger size than males.
As youngsters, both male and female whale sharks have their fastest growth spurt, adding about 20 to 30 centimeters each year. But here’s the interesting part: males grow faster than females.
By the time they turn 30 years old, male whale sharks reach around eight meters in length. And at this age, they reach sexual maturity, which means they can produce little baby sharks.
But females take a bit more time to grow and surpass the males in size. At around age 50, female whale sharks reach about 14 meters in length. At this age, they also reach sexual maturity. So, just like the males, they’re all set to have their own baby sharks.
So honestly, among all the fun facts about whale sharks, this one stands out as the most intriguing for me.
These magnificent creatures have a unique way of giving birth to their young. It’s called ovoviviparous, which means “egg live birth.”
Unlike most fish that lay eggs in the water, female whale sharks keep the fertilised eggs inside their bodies. The tiny shark embryos develop in special “shells” within the mother’s belly. When it’s time, they shed these membranes, and she gives birth to live baby sharks.
These fun facts about whale sharks are getting even more thrilling. Isn’t it?
Anyways, whale shark pregnancies are super long – like an 11-month journey. Imagine waiting for almost a year to meet your little one! At birth, these cute baby sharks measure around 40 to 60 centimeters long, and their moms can carry up to 300 pups at once.
Female sharks give birth to a calf every two to three years, much longer than other marine mammals’ reproductive cycles. They increase their chances of getting pregnant by mating with more than one male shark during the breeding season.
6. Female Sharks Lay Twice the Size of Ostrich Eggs
We’ve all heard about ostrich eggs being huge for land animals, right? They can grow up to 6 inches long and 5 inches wide – quite the breakfast. But whale shark eggs are even bigger, as gigantic as twice the size of ostrich eggs. It’s like having two super-sized pizzas back to back – enough to get a spot in our list of fun facts about whale sharks.
While it’s rare to spot whale shark eggs, scientists have been lucky enough to find a few. One lucky discovery in the Gulf of Mexico revealed an egg that measured 12 inches long and 5 ½ inches wide – now that’s a giant!
Next on our list of fun facts about whale sharks is their impressive dental arrangement. Despite having around 3,000 tiny teeth, they are no biters. These teeth are so small and weak that they’re not used for biting or chewing. Instead, they use their wide mouths to filter plankton and other small organisms from the water.
Their teeth are as tiny as a grain of rice and arranged in rows. But they are not sharp and don’t serve to catch prey. Instead, they play a crucial role in keeping the plankton and small organisms inside the whale shark’s mouth as it glides through the water.
These teeth are believed to be vestigial, like a relic from an earlier stage of evolution. They might have been useful for biting or chewing in the past. But as the whale shark’s diet evolved, these teeth became unnecessary.
8. Have “Teeth” To Protect Their Eyes
Who knew whale sharks have teeth in their eyes too? Ensuring no gem was left behind, I included it in our list of fun facts about whale sharks. These dermal denticles can also be found on the rest of the whale shark’s body. Just like regular teeth, dermal denticles are made of the same material and have a similar structure.
They are believed to help shield their eyes from pesky parasites and other small organisms that might try to bother them. Not only that, but these dermal denticles might also help the whale shark reduce drag as they swim through the ocean waters.
Although we can’t see these unique teeth with our naked eyes, researchers from Japan’s Okinawa Churashima Research Center discovered them through a microscope. Their study published in the journal PLOS One revealed that these dermal denticles form a neat circular pattern around the whale sharks’ irises and measure about 0.2 millimeters in length.
It’s an unexpected fact in our list of fun facts about whale sharks, as they have a unique way of resting that differs from how humans sleep. As obligate ram ventilators, they need to keep swimming to breathe, unlike us, who can lie down and sleep. This means they can’t fully rest their brains, as one-half of their brain needs to stay active to control their swimming.
But don’t worry; they do take little breaks. Sometimes, sharks slow down their swimming or even stop for short periods of time. During these moments, they might rest their brains or do other things like cleaning their gills.
Scientists think that whale sharks may experience something called “slow-wave sleep.” In this special sleep state, their brain waves are slower than when awake. Slow-wave sleep is important for their memory and other brain functions.
Whale sharks are truly one-of-a-kind with their incredible appearance. You’ll spot three noticeable ridges on each side of their body that make them stand out. And guess what? Their skin is like a fantastic work of art, covered in white spots and stripes against a dark blue or grey background.
It’s like their way of playing hide-and-seek with those pesky predators – being sneaky and hard to spot. What’s even more amazing is that, just like how we all have unique fingerprints, whale sharks have their very own special spot patterns too.
It’s like having secret codes that help scientists tell them apart and learn fascinating things about each one – who they are and where they’ve been. By studying these patterns, they can track each whale shark’s movements, diet, and breeding habits. Although the spots might not always be easy to see, they’re more visible when the sharks are young.
11. Whale Shark’s Massive Liver Helps Them Stay Afloat
Whale sharks have an incredible superpower hidden inside their bodies – a massive liver. You might wonder why it’s on our fun facts about whale sharks list. It’s because their liver is so big that it makes up 25% of the total body weight.
It’s believed that the size of their liver plays a crucial role in helping them with buoyancy, which is like their very own floatation device. This means they can control how high or low they swim in the ocean without much effort. This also helps them stay afloat in the water.
These gentle giants have a super-sized appetite and can gulp down a mind-blowing 1500 gallons of water every single hour. That’s like drinking up a whole swimming pool in just 60 minutes.
But here’s the cool part – while they swallow all that water, they’re not gulping it down for a thirst quencher. Nope! They’re actually on a tasty quest for their favorite meal – plankton and other tiny organisms that live in the water.
Whale sharks are like the ocean’s vacuum cleaners, sucking up all those teeny-tiny creatures with their wide mouths. Therefore, this ability to filter out delicious treats earns the 12th spot on our fun facts about whale sharks list.
Despite being the largest fish in the world, these gentle giants don’t put much effort into their swimming. They have a special way of moving through the water that’s more like gliding than paddling.
Instead of flapping their fins like some other fish, whale sharks use their big bodies and strong tails to glide gracefully through the ocean. This laid-back swimming style is perfect for them because they’re filter feeders.
With their huge mouths wide open, they just let the water carry them along while they feast on tiny treats. It’s like a leisurely buffet on the go.
These magnificent creatures hold the record for the longest migration among all fish, traveling an incredible 12,000 miles. So, where do they go? They roam the open seas to search for food and ideal breeding spots.
The reason I included this in our fun facts about whale sharks list is that their migration isn’t a one-time event. They do this year after year, showing off their remarkable navigation skills. Just imagine these gentle giants cruising through the deep blue, exploring new horizons, and swimming thousands of miles without maps or GPS.
And finally, the last but certainly not least of the 15 fun facts about whale sharks. These amazing creatures pose no threat to humans at all. They’re like the friendly giants of the ocean, always curious about us. And often coming closer to divers and boats out of sheer curiosity.
Their mouths may be wide, but their tiny teeth are no match for biting or chewing. Plus, their mouths are not big enough to swallow humans, so you’re safe. There have been no recorded cases of them attacking humans, and they’re known to interact with us in a positive way.
Wrapping Up– Fun Facts About Whale Sharks
So, it’s a wrap-up of 15 fun facts about whale sharks. From their massive size to their gentle nature, these creatures continue to awe and inspire us. Swimming alongside these magnificent beings is an unforgettable experience, and you’ll cherish the memories of this magical encounter for a lifetime.
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