Are Whale Sharks Dangerous?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: April 10, 2022
© weera bunnak/
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Whale sharks get their name from the similarity they share with sharks and whales. They are the largest species of fish in the world. These creatures are huge and weigh several tons. Unlike their shark counterparts, they share the quiet nature of whales and have been known to give lifts to quite a number of divers. 

It’s normal that their unusual size is terrifying and just as intimidating. Apart from the terrific size of this fish, you also have to contend with its shark-like teeth. One wonders, then, how much of a shark is a whale shark? Are whale sharks dangerous? Is it safe to swim with them or move close to them? Find out in this article!

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous?

Biggest Fish in the World: Whale Shark
Whale sharks are gentle creatures who pose no threat to humans.

©Onusa Putapitak/

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Whale sharks are not dangerous; in fact, they’re quite the opposite. They are one of the few shark species that do not bother humans at all. They are known to be gentle and only intimidating by appearance. 

Whale sharks are actually not whales. They are called whale sharks because they are as big as whales. They are, in fact, the largest living fish in the ocean. Whale sharks have been known to grow as large as 65 feet! The average length of growing whale sharks is between 16 and 26 feet. Because of their size, these fish can seem very scary and mean, but they are just as calm and gentle as humpback whales.

Whale sharks are filter feeders. Although they have several small teeth in their jaws, they do not use these for feeding. Instead, they filter in several liters of water using their filter pads. This helps them catch small fish, krill, or jellyfish. Unlike carnivorous sharks, like great whites, who attack large prey and can take mouthfuls, whale sharks have to eat little portions of filtered plankton. 

Their large appetite leaves them in constant need of feeding, and so they often travel with their mouths open, filtering in more food. So, it’s understandable that anyone would be terrified to see a huge shark coming at them with its mouth wide open. But there’s no need to worry – these sharks would just swim past you quietly.

In certain eco-tourism locations, people often get the opportunity to ride alongside whales. This is definitely a thrilling experience and is safe too! The only risk you may face is getting in the path of the shark’s massive tail and getting swept away. Overall, whale sharks are very peaceful.

Can Whale Sharks Attack Humans? 

What do Whale Sharks Eat - Whale Shark Filter Feeding
Whale sharks have never attacked people.

©Fata Morgana by Andrew Marriott/

No, whale sharks do not attack humans. They also do not attack other sea creatures. They are known as the gentle giants of the sea for this reason.

Has a Whale Shark Ever Killed a Human?

No, no whale shark has ever killed a human. There has been no record of these fish attacking human beings. Apart from the naturally calm demeanor, whale fish do not use their teeth. So, they cannot bite humans or kill them. Neither can they eat dead human flesh. 

Will a Whale Shark Eat a Human?

Apart from the similarity in size, whale sharks also share the same feeding habit as whales. Whale sharks are primarily planktivores, feeding particularly on krill and small fish. They have no interest in eating humans or other kinds of animals. They couldn’t, even if they wanted to. This is because their mouths are not designed for biting or ripping out flesh. 

It’s important to mention here that whale sharks have enormous mouths. The average whale shark can stretch its mouth to five feet. That’s about the size of a standard doorway. As this fish swims along, it suctions large amounts of water to get food through. If a human swims too close at this time, he could get sucked into the mouth of the fish. However, there have been no records of people getting swallowed by this fish. Although, this is not to say there haven’t been close calls.

Do Whale Sharks Have Teeth?

Biggest Fish in the World: Whale Shark
Whale sharks have rows of 300 sharp teeth.

©Rich Carey/

Whale sharks have teeth, although these teeth aren’t like typical shark teeth. Each of them has about 300 rows of sharp teeth at any given time.

Their teeth are called vestigial organs, meaning that they are only present because sharks may have used them in the past but not anymore. Like most creatures, whale sharks have evolved into filter-feeding fish. So, the presence of several teeth does not affect how whale sharks feed today. 

Since they do not use their teeth, humans are not at risk of getting bitten by these sharks. They also do not bite into their food but swallow them whole. However, swimming too close to them can result in skin injuries. This is because whale sharks have sharp, toothy scales all over their skin. So, if you make bodily contact with them, you could get what is known as a “shark burn.” Nevertheless, whale sharks are not known to use their teeth for attacks or daily feeding.

Are Whale Sharks Intelligent?

Although studies regarding whale sharks and their cerebral abilities are still ongoing, it’s safe to say that they have demonstrated some form of intelligence. These sharks have been known to anticipate feeding by swimming in circles when humans come close to their shark tanks. Their unusual method of standing upright to catch more food is one that requires an impressive amount of coordination and skill. And although sharks are known to be quite inquisitive, most whale sharks in the wild would rather ignore humans. 

Are Whale Sharks Friendly?

Whale sharks are solitary animals who often go about their business without interfering with other animals. However, there have been reports of whale sharks who were good sports and swam alongside boats or ships. As a result of their gentle nature, it is expected that they will not react harshly to people who swim close to them. And that has been the case so far.

Can You Swim with a Whale Shark?

Yes- whale sharks snorkeling and scuba diving are quite popular. These sharks have beautifully patterned skin, and the sight is always worth a trip with them. Whale sharks are gentle, slow-moving fish. 

Their average speed is just about 3 mph, so people can easily keep up the pace with them. It is, however, advised that people should not swim too close to them. These fish have been listed as endangered species due to the high rate of commercial hunting. Therefore, most experts discourage people from intruding in their habitats.

In addition, whale sharks have a layer of mucus covering that protects them from parasites. Swimming too close to them can disturb this covering and make them vulnerable to bacteria. At the same time, you could get scratched by the sharp edges of their scales.

The Featured Image

Biggest Shark: Whale Shark
A whale shark swimming near an underwater reef. Each whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots, much like human fingerprints.
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