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Fishes Attracted to Whale Sharks

Whale sharks are often found in association with other pelagic fishes, including remoras, cobia, jacks, dolphin, tripletail and tunas (Gaertner and Medina-Gaertner 1999, Hoffmayer et al. 2005). These species appear to be feeding on the same resource as the whale sharks (Clarke and Nelson 1997, Colman 1997, Heyman et al. 2001). Tunas, in particular, are reported to associate with whale sharks all over the world (Cropp 1978, Australia; Iwasaki 1970, Japan; Baughman 1955, Honduras; Gudger 1941, Springer 1957, and Hoffmayer et al.2005, Gulf of Mexico). For example, GCRL researchers observed two whale sharks (~10 m in length) accompanied by large schools of yellowfin, blackfin and skipjack tuna (Thunnus albacares, T. atlanticus and Katsuwonus pelamis, respectively) feeding on small fishes believed to be clupeids, which may have represented food for the whale sharks as well (Hoffmayer et al. 2005). See Research.

Table 1. Fishes observed in association with whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, in the northern Gulf of Mexico from 2002-2007. This table includes only information that was reported through the Whale Shark Sightings Survey.

Common Name Scientific name Number of Encounters
Blackfin tuna Thunnus atlanticus 10
Skipjack tuna Katsuwanus pelamis 9
Yellowfin tuna Thunnus albacares 8
Cobia Rachycentron canadum 8
Shark sucker Echeneis naucrates 7
Little tunny Euthynnus alletteratus 4
Requiem shark Carcharhinus sp. 2
Blue marlin Makaira nigricans 2
Amberjack Seriola dumerili 2
Blue runner Caranx crysos 1
Dolphinfish Coryphaena hippurus 1
Mako shark Isurus oxyrinchus 1
Tripletail Lobotes surinamensis 1

Literature Cited

Baughman, J.L. 1955. The oviparity of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, with records of this and other fishes in Texas waters. Copeia 1955:54-55.

Clark, E. and D.R. Nelson. 1997. Young whale sharks, Rhincodon typus, feeding on a copepod bloom near La Paz, Mexico. Environmental Biology of Fishes 50:63-73.

Colman, J.G. 1997. A review of the biology and ecology of the whale shark. Journal of Fish Biology 51:1219-1234.

Cropp, B. 1978. Shark Hunters. Harrowood Books, New York.

Gaertner, D. and M. Medina-Gaertner. 1999. An overview of the tuna fishery in the southern Caribbean Sea. In: Scott, M.D., Bayliff, W.H., Lennert-Cody, C.E. and Schaefer, K.M. eds.), Proceedings of the International Workshop on the Ecology and Fisheries for Tunas associated with Floating Objects. February 1992. Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission Special Report 11. La Jolla, CA, pp. 66-86.

Gudger, E.W. 1941. The food and feeding habits of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Science Society 57:57-72.

Heyman, W., R. Graham, B. Kjerfve, and R.E. Johannes. 2001. Whale sharks Rhincodon typus aggregate to feed on fish spawn in Belize. Marine Ecology Progress Series 251:275-282.

Hoffmayer, E.R., J.S. Franks, and J.P. Shelley. 2005. Recent observations of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) in the north central Gulf of Mexico. Gulf and Caribbean Research 17:117-120.

Iwasaki, Y. 1970. On the distribution and environment of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus, in skipjack fishing grounds in the western Pacific Ocean. Journal of The College of Marine Science and Technology 4:37-51.

Springer, S. 1957. Some observations on the behavior of schools of fishes in the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent waters. Ecology 38:166-171.