The whale shark, also known as the good shark, is harmless to humans. Given its characteristics, they classify it as the largest fish currently known…
The whale shark is harmless to humans
The whale shark is not dangerous for humans: given its meek character, on the web, it is easy to come across travel announcements to the Maldives, Mexico, Australia, or the Philippines, in which they promise diving and snorkeling at close contact with the whale shark. Experts do not recommend the practice, not for the danger of the animal, but because this species is at risk of extinction, it might upset her in her daily routine.
What are the characteristics of the largest fish?
The whale shark, especially adult specimens, is of considerable size and can reach the maximum measured length of 12.6 meters and a weight of 21.5 tons, and the females can even exceed 14 meters. According to some estimates, this species could even reach 20 meters, but in recent years the average size of the specimens found in decreasing because of overfishing, which is reducing the average life of the shark.
The international community and all people must immediately put in place control over human activities to ensure the survival of the species. The Maldives Whale Shark Research Program was founded in 2006, and it is a charity that conducts research on whale sharks and promotes community-focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives. The goal is to make the most of scientific research to safeguard the rich biodiversity and fragile marine ecosystems essential to preserving not only whale sharks but also the life, livelihoods, and culture of the Maldives.
It immediately distinguishes the whale shark in appearance from other shark species both for its large and flathead and for the yellow spots present on its skin, a feature that helps scientists in the recognition of individuals. The remarkable size is not the only record: the whale shark is also the longest-lived fish in the world, reaching 60 years of age. At a first superficial glance, given its size, the whale shark might seem a dangerous animal for humans, while we reiterate it is a completely harmless species.
Whale shark, how to recognize it
The head is broad and flat, and the mouth is positioned frontally, while in all sharks it is placed in a central position, i.e. facing downwards. The body is gray-green, covered with a multitude of white polka dots, which inspired the population of Madagascar in giving it the name of “Marokintana”, which means “with a thousand stars”.
Approach and observation
If they are harmless and particularly spectacular animals, then why is it not recommended to get too close or touch whale sharks?
The solution is simple: in order not to disturb their peace, as these animals are already struggling with an exhausting struggle for the conservation of the species.
The easiest way to get close to the whale shark is by snorkeling when they swim close to the surface.
If you have dived to meet a whale shark, remember that there are some rules to follow in order not to disturb its tranquility:
- Let yourself fall into the water, creating as little noise as possible, a few meters ahead of the body so it is it who comes to meet you.
- Do not point or chase it.
- Try not to touch it at all costs.
- Do not get too close: they will recognize any harassing attitude as an “attempt at predation” or disturbance for the animal.
- Avoid Camera Flashes: The whale shark’s eyes dislike bright lights.
Where does the whale shark live?
This species of sharks are migratory animals that inhabit tropical and temperate-warm waters around the globe staying between thirty degrees of latitude in both hemispheres. It prefers the waters of the Maldives, Australia, and the Philippines, but there is no shortage of sightings in the Mediterranean Sea.
As adults, they have mainly pelagic habits; they prefer to live in the open sea.
The whale shark, however, approaches the coast’s seasonally in many aggregation sites scattered in many parts of the world. We do not know the exact nature of these gatherings, which sometimes may be of a food type and in other cases of a reproductive type.
What does the whale shark eat?
The feeding of the whale shark most often occurs in-depth. It runs for long swims passively filtering the water and feeding on small crustaceans, fish eggs and corals, squid, and small fish. It returns to shallow water to warm up and squash plankton when it gathers at a high density near the surface, actively sucking water into the oral cavity.
Conservation and protection of an endangered species
Unfortunately, the whale shark has been and still is the object of intensive fishing for various purposes. It is considered an important food source in many local cultures and has been the object of attention by industrial fishing. The whale shark is important above all for the extraction of its liver oil, which, given its enormous size, contains an enormous amount of it. We should also remember the important demand of the Asian markets, where products from the whale shark are sought after because they are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Intensive fishing, combined with exceptionally low reproductive rates and the low resilience of populations, has led many international organizations for protecting biodiversity to include it, for several reasons, in protection regimes for protecting endangered wildlife. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has classified the whale shark as an endangered species.