What Do Whale Sharks Eat? Their Diets Explained

Written by AZ Animals Staff
Updated: December 26, 2021
Image Credit Fata Morgana by Andrew Marriott/Shutterstock.com
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What Do Whale Sharks Eat
Whale sharks are filter feeders that eat a diet which consists of planktons, krill, and algae

A-Z-Animals.com

The largest fish in the sea, whale sharks are (mostly) carnivores the size of a school bus. Whale sharks may have the word “whale” in their name, but they are actually just very large type of shark! While massive, these gentle giants only eat certain types of fish and plant life. Keep reading to learn more about everything a whale shark eats!

What Do Whale Sharks Eat?

Male Whale Shark at Georgia Aquarium
Whale sharks cast a distinctive appearance

ZacWolf / Creative Commons

Whale sharks are filter feeders that eat large amounts of fish at once, swimming with their huge mouths open and filtering through what they want to eat without having to swallow gallons of water. While whale sharks are massive creatures, these fish don’t eat all types of fish. Normally, they’ll only eat tiny plants, fish, fish eggs, or other animals that are around when they open their huge mouths!

A whale shark’s favorite food is, however, plankton. These fish will migrate from very far distances just to eat a large supply of plankton right when the plankton blooms. The Ningaloo Reef on the coast of Australia is one such place where whale sharks migrate to every spring!    

How Much Do Whale Sharks Eat?

Heaviest Animals: Plankton Feeding Sharks
A large Whale Shark swimming in shallow water over a tropical coral reef. Each whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots, much like human fingerprints.

Richard Whitcombe/Shutterstock.com

Whale sharks are massive creatures. Therefore, they need quite a lot of food to fill them up. However, their large size can also help them store energy better and travel long distances easier than other fish. Whale sharks migrate a lot to hit certain areas of the sea when plankton blooms or coral eggs spawn.

It’s thought that their huge size helps them throughout this migration. Some whale sharks may struggle finding a lot of food during their consistent traveling, so their size helps them reach their destination and feast on plankton when they get there.

Whale sharks also happen to be very slow swimmers, as they average about three miles per hour. Therefore, eating enough and conserving their energy is very important.

A Complete List of What Whale Sharks Eat

What do Whale Sharks Eat - Whale Shark Filter Feeding

Fata Morgana by Andrew Marriott/Shutterstock.com

Whale sharks are only known to eat very small animals, fish, and plant life. Whale sharks eat:

Those last items (plants and algae) might be surprising, but a 2019 study found that a surprising amount of the whale shark’s diet came from algae. Prior studies had noted the presence of algae in whale shark stomachs, but it’s been unclear whether it’s accidental or intentional. New research is now showing that whale sharks are more omnivorous than scientists previously understood!

A Whale Shark’s Feeding Habits

Biggest Fish in the World: Whale Shark
A whale shark’s mouth can stretch more than four feet across

Rich Carey/Shutterstock.com

Whale sharks eat a lot, even though they cannot bite or chew their food. While they have about 300 rows of teeth – and about 3,000 tiny teeth in total – whale sharks cannot accurately chew large fish. This is why they eat such small fish and plant life.

Whale sharks use their tiny teeth to eat small food, as well as their gill rakers (which acts as a suction filter) to help them thrive as filter feeders.

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous to Humans?

While whale sharks are mostly carnivores, they only eat small fish and plant life. They do not eat larger animals or humans in any regard. Whale sharks are often called gentle creatures – even though they are the largest fish in the sea! – and have been known to be kind to humans in the ocean.

Adventurous people often enjoy swimming with whale sharks, with no problem at all! Often, whale sharks will just ignore humans swimming in the ocean near them. Therefore, they are not dangerous to humans.

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