HUGE FACTS ABOUT WHALE SHARKS
1. Whale Sharks are neither whale or shark. They are actually a FISH! They are cold blooded and breathe through their gills. The are the biggest fish in the world , growing to over 40 feet in length.
2. Whale Shark females give live birth to baby whale sharks. They lay their eggs inside their bodies.
3. They are migratory. They are tropical and sub-tropical fish. They move around a lot. In 3 years, they swam over 8,000 miles. I saw them in Mexico in the summer but they leave Mexico in September.
4. Whale Sharks have thousands of teeth. Their mouths can be 5 feet in length.
5. The Whale Sharks spots are like human fingerprints. Each one has a unique pattern and number of spots.
6. Whale Sharks can feed via suction. They are mostly filter feeders and eat plankton, krill and fish eggs. they swim with their mouth open and suck in the plankton.
Whale Sharks are Highly Valued... but not in a good way!
Various international studies are being held on other issues that could affect this species as well. For example, current studies are being performed to determine the impact of marine micro-plastics in Western Australia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Plastic pollution poses a major threat to all marine species, however, micro-plastics have a greater chance of being ingested by animals, especially those who spend time near the surface. Ingested plastics can block an animalʻs digestive tract, reducing its ability to absorb nutrients, etc.Other conservation efforts are done by programs such as World Wildlife Foundation. These conservation efforts include legal protection and regulations. Whale sharks are legally protected in Australian Commonwealth waters, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia, the Maldives, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Honduras, Mexico, in U.S. Atlantic waters, and in a small sanctuary area off Belize, along with other location in consideration of these legal efforts. In Western Australian waters, whale sharks are protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act of 1950. Other regulations have been made to protect these sharks from live whale shark trades and the sale of their shark meat, etc. Enforcing existing laws for fisheries and fishermen is very important as well. Ecotourism projects are also working on promoting safe interactions among whale sharks and humans, while promoting the regional tourist economies. These require high monitoring to make sure that the increase of tourism does not negatively affect the sharks’ behavior.
I believe the best way to protect the whale sharks is through education.
It is no surprise that the major threats to sharks are induced by human activity. Finning, plastic ingestion, bycatch, speed boats, fisheries, and even tourist operations are just a few of the key threats responsible for the decimation of this species.
Whale shark meat has grown in demand over the last 30 years. In the late 1990s, a whole shark could be worth up to tens of thousands of US dollars (depending on size and weight of the animal). The sharks’ soft meat is consumed by the general public around the world (predominately in Asia), and oil from the sharks’ livers has been used for anything from shoeshine to treatment for waterproofing boats. Recent surveys have shown an increased demand for the fins as well. The fins are highly valued on international markets, especially for their size, which is why they are often sold as display or trophy fins. This continued demand for the fins, meat, and oil is a high threat to the existence of this species.
Tourism can also pose a threat to whale sharks, due to the fact that it can interrupt their feeding patterns and possibly their migration routes. This is connected to damage to the animal by boat as well. Boat propellers have the potential to injure the sharks, and the risk of this is increased by the fact that whale sharks tend to swim near the surface. It is also believed that negative effects toward migration routes of these animals could occur because of increased levels of noise and pollution from boat traffic. Additionally, sharks sense sounds as pressure through their individual lateral line systems. It is possible that very loud sounds may even negatively affect their everyday behavior (such as feeding, mating, migration, etc.). The sharks’ movement may also be affected by longer-term and cyclical shifts in climate. Unfortunately, all this is made significantly worse by the fact that whale sharks are known to take up to 30 years to reach sexual maturity, making the killing of these animals extremely unsustainable.
While it is evident that humans have negatively impacted the global population of whale sharks, efforts are also being made to save this species. Scientific research has been/is being conducted in the form of satellite tags, sonar devices, and digital cameras. Photographic ID is a non-invasive way to track whale sharks. Unlike other
sharks, juvenile whale sharks exhibit their same skin patterns throughout adulthood. Scientists and conservationists are using spot recognition software to identify whale sharks by their unique spotted markings along their forward flanks. This process relies on the spot pattern found from the segment posterior to the 5th gill slit of each shark. One can also tell the difference between male and female whale sharks by the existence of claspers on the males.