The sole living member of its family, the whale shark is the world's largest living fish. Its massive, fusiform body reaches lengths in excess of 46' (14m). It has alternating thin white vertical bars and columns of spots on a dark background, with long ridges along the upper side of the body and a prominent lateral keel. The narrow mouth extends across the full width of its flattened head. The eyes are small and far forward on the head. Each nostril has a small barbel and the gill slits are long and extend above the pectoral fins. Above the relatively small pelvic fins are the first of two dorsal fins. The powerful caudal fin is semicircular.
It was well-developed internal spongy filters at the gill arches, which help to retain small prey within its huge mouth. This mechanism may impede the flow of water through the mouth during swimming, which limits the amount of plankton the shark can strain. So, as well as filter feeding, it can also pump water into its mouth to feed on concentrated patches of plankton.
- Seasonally, day and night
- Appears curious with humans
This shark swims slowly near the surface, consuming small crustacean plankton, small fishes, such as sardines and anchovies, and even larger fishes such as mackerel.
The whale shark is a live-bearer. Pregnant females were recently found to contain hundreds of young, up to about 2' (60cm) long.
The whale shark is found in all tropical and subtropical oceans, along coastal regions, and enters lagoons on tropical islands. It is mostly seen on the surface were divers and snorkelers can swim with this gentle, curious creature.
The whale shark ranges throughout the western and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Indo-West, central, and eastern Pacific Ocean.