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coastal-stories

Saltie Voice: Whale Shark

Katie Stoddart

 

Saltie Soul Voice

Conservation Status The Whale Shark is listed as vulnerable and migratory under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The whale shark is found in open waters of the tropical oceans and is rarely found in water below 22 °C (72 °F). Modeling suggests a lifespan of about 70 years, but measurements have proven difficult. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 m (41.5 ft) and a weight of about 21.5 t (47,000 lb), and unconfirmed reports of considerably larger whale sharks exist.

Whale sharks have very large mouths and are filter feeders, which is a feeding mode that occurs in only two other sharks, the megamouth shark and the basking shark. They feed almost exclusively on plankton and therefore, are completely harmless to humans. Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant danger to humans.

Whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride, although this practice is discouraged by shark scientists and conservationists because of the disturbance to the sharks. Younger whale sharks are gentle and can play with divers.

Whale sharks have a broad distribution in tropical and warm temperate seas, usually between latitudes 30°N and 35°S. They are known to inhabit both deep and shallow coastal waters and the lagoons of coral atolls and reefs.

Australia is one of the most reliable locations to find whale sharks. Regular sightings have also been recorded from many other regions including India, the Maldives, South Africa, Belize, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. In 2011, more than 400 whale sharks gathered off the Yucatan Coast, it was one of the largest gatherings of whale sharks recorded.


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