Whale Shark Description

| Distribution and Movements | Biology and Life History | Feeding Ecology | Natural Predators | Associated Fishes | Conservation

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus Smith, 1828) is the world's largest fish, reaching 15 meters (m) and 18 metric tons (Colman 1997). The head is broad and flattened with a large terminal mouth, miniscule teeth, and large gill slits. The eyes are small and located just behind the mouth on each side of the head. There are three prominent ridges along the back. The first dorsal fin is larger than the second dorsal fin and is set midway back on the shark. Whale sharks have distinctive markings of pale white spots and stripes on their dark dorsal surface, which resembles a checkerboard pattern. It has been suggested that this checkerboard pattern functions as camouflage in the pelagic environment (Wilson and Martin, 2004). Since the arrangement of spots is specific to the individual, photographic identification libraries are being complied for whale shark populations around the world (ECOCEAN).

Literature Cited

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

Wilson, S.G. and R.A. Martin. 2004. Body markings of the whale shark: vestigial or functional? Western Australian Naturalist 124(2):118-134.

ECOCEAN, www.whaleshark.org