10 Incredible Whale Shark Facts!

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Published: October 3, 2021
Image Credit Onusa Putapitak/Shutterstock.com
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Whale sharks, are they whales? Are they sharks? This amazing creature is actually a shark. They call it a whale shark due to its enormous size and because sharks are fish, the whale shark is the largest fish in the world! Let’s look at some incredible facts about the whale shark:

1. The largest recorded whale shark was the length of a bowling alley!

A regulation bowling alley is 60 feet long. The largest recorded whale shark came in at 61.7 feet. Can you imagine a giant shark in the lane next to yours? While most whale sharks are not that long, the average ones are still around 40 feet. Next time you pass a school bus you can compare that to the length of a whale shark.

2. Big but slow! Whale sharks swim about 3mph.

You may be familiar with the Tortoise and the Hare, but what if a Tortoise raced a whale shark? Well, the whale shark would most likely win unless he got very distracted. Whale sharks are still slow swimmers compared to most sharks and at 3mph they would just beat a tortoise whose top speed is .63 mph.

3. Can you ship a shark by UPS? YES!

In 2006, two whale sharks were shipped by UPS from Taiwan to Atlanta’s Georgia Aquarium. The two female whale sharks (Alice and Trixie) were around 13 feet long each and had to be transported is special containers to mimic the conditions of the ocean. A team of vets from the Aquarium watched over the sharks on the flight to take care of them and make sure the transition went smooth. In 2007 two more whale sharks, this time two males (Yushon and Taroko), were flown over in a similar fashion with no issues.

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4. Twins, Triplets, Quads…or 300 babies?

The reproductive habits of whale sharks are still being studied, but there is a confirmed case of a pregnant whale shark that was caught near Taiwan in 1995. Upon examination, scientists found 300 pups. Whale sharks are similar to other sharks in that they are ovoviviparous, their eggs are fertilized internally, then they hatch inside the female and then are delivered by live birth. Scientists speculate that the live babies are released over a long period of time vs. all at once.

5. Whale sharks have the largest eggs, twice as big as an ostrich egg.

Ostriches produces the largest eggs for land animals, their eggs can reach 6 inches long by 5 inches wide. Whale shark eggs are about twice that big. The eggs remain inside the female during growth and hatch inside the female, but there has been evidence of whale shark eggs being found. One found in the Gulf of Mexico was 12 inches long and 5 ½ inches wide.

6. Big shark but tiny teeth, lots of them, over 3000!

Whale sharks have row after row after row of tiny little teeth, 300 rows on average. The teeth are about the size of the tip of a pencil (would not make a very impressive shark-tooth necklace.) But because whale sharks are filter-feeders, sifting the nutrients from the water, they don’t use their teeth at all for eating. Scientists are not sure of their purpose.

7. Say “Ahh!”, a whale shark’s mouth can be 4+ feet wide.

Talk about a funnel, the whale shark’s mouth can be 4 or more feet wide, but their throat is only the size of a quarter. So no need to worry about getting swallowed up by that gaping mouth. Whale sharks swim slowly with their large mouth open, sifting through the water for plankton, small shrimp and small fish. Their gills act as a suction to draw the food in. It is amazing how an animal that weighs 41,000 lbs can support itself on this simple diet.

8. Happy 100th Birthday!

Whale sharks are believed to have a life span similar to humans, ranging from 70-100 years, but some believe they could live even longer. Marine Biologists are trying to study how long whale sharks can survive in captivity. Alice, who was one of the whale sharks brought to the Georgia Aquarium, recently died (June 2021) after living there for more than 15 years. Some people are against keeping whale sharks in captivity because they can’t mimic their natural habitat, while others believe it is an important piece in educating humans about the sharks in order to protect them from extinction.

9. Just keep swimming! The longest migration recorded for a whale shark was a 12,000 mile trip.

If you fly from New York to L.A. it is about 2,800 miles. A group of scientists tagged a whale in the Pacific Ocean near Panama and recorded its travels all the way to the Philippines. That is like going from New York to L.A. and back, twice! This shark’s trip was spread out over 841 days, which averages 14.3 miles/day. One Scientist, Eric Hoffmayer, wanted to study the typical migratory habits of the whale shark. His team tagged 42 sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and tracked their movements by satellite for a year. They were able to plot their movements and see where and when they traveled. In this study it was interesting to find that none of the sharks left the Gulf of Mexico. The most common place for them to hang out was an area near the coast of Louisiana.

10. Whale Sharks can swim a mile deep.

They clearly have an unfair advantage at Marco Polo! The current record for the deepest dive by a fish is held by a whale shark at 1,928m (1.20 miles). Think about a track with an outside lane of water. That whale shark swam around the equivalent of four times, but straight down!

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AZ Animals is a growing team of animals experts, researchers, farmers, conservationists, writers, editors, and -- of course -- pet owners who have come together to help you better understand the animal kingdom and how we interact.

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