Happy Whale Shark Day! To celebrate, here are a few facts about whale sharks from my experience as a conservation and whale shark writer. Although I’m not a scientist, I’ve been lucky enough to spend lots of time in the water with whale sharks. This has been in various ways: as a tourist, a citizen scientist and a volunteer for marine conservation organisations. I’ve also several various articles about whale sharks and, I must admit, I’m fascinated by this species. There's a lot we still don't know about whale sharks. But here are a few of my favourite facts.
- Whale sharks are the biggest fish on the planet – even bigger than great white sharks. The largest whale shark ever recorded was a whopping 18.8m long – that’s as long as a volleyball court
- Despite their epic size, these gentle giants are filter feeders and do not pose any threat to humans
- Scientists think these mammoth sharks can live to 100 years old
- Records show they can dive over 1,200m deep
- Each individual whale shark has its own spot pattern which is as unique as a human fingerprint. If you take a photo of the side of the shark (between the gill slits and pectoral fin) and upload it to a global database, you can help scientists identify the individual and see if it’s been spotted elsewhere. NASA originally developed this technology!
- The IUCN Red List lists whale sharks as an endangered species – they were reclassified (from vulnerable) in 2016
- The wonderful Chris Rohner and his team observed a 79% decline in whale shark sightings off Mozambique’s Inhambane coast between 2005 and 2011. This coastline is particularly close to my heart, having volunteered there with MMF in 2018, and the decline in sightings of these wonderful, speckled sharks is worrying
- A 2012 study suggests that whale sharks are a targeted species in China for their large fins as well as other bodyparts
How you can help
- Become a citizen scientist. If you see a whale shark in the wild, you can upload your photo of its spot pattern to Wildbook for Whale Sharks to help researchers around the world find out more about these endangered animals and how to protect them
- Adopt a shark. You could show your support to whale shark charities by making a donation to support their important work. For example, you can adopt a whale shark from the Madagascar Whale Shark Project or even name your own shark.
- Join a Marine Megafauna Foundation expedition. If you want to see these amazing sharks in the wild while also supporting important conservation work, check out MMF’s upcoming expeditions
Thanks for reading. If you need support with any articles, blog posts or other copywriting projects about the ocean, marine conservation and sustainability, please get in touch. You don't need to be looking for a whale shark writer (although bonus points if you are - I love writing about these incredible sharks). I cover a range of marine-related and sustainability topics. I’d love to hear from you to chat about an upcoming project!
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