American Oceans

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous?

Did you know there are more than 1000 shark species in the world? These ocean predators come in all shapes and sizes, from the great white shark to the least weasel shark.

are whale sharks dangerous

One of the fascinating creatures is the whale shark, a giant fish that can reach lengths of up to 40 feet and live for 70 years.

With its colossal size comes the valuable question: are whale sharks dangerous?

Whale sharks pose little to no threat to humans. In fact, they’re pretty docile, and interactions with swimmers are generally peaceful.

They’re filter feeders, which means they don’t have to chase after prey as they feed on plankton, krill, and small fish. They’re also naturally curious about humans, so they interact with humans more than other shark species.

Keep reading to learn more about the species and the safety of swimming with whale sharks.

What Is a Whale Shark?

The whale shark’s scientific name is Rhincodon typus. It is a slow-moving, filter-feeding carpet shark found in tropical and warm oceans worldwide.

largest endangered whale sharks in oceans

It is the largest fish that can weigh up to 47,000 pounds and have a length of 40 feet. The shark has a white spot pattern on its body that are quite striking.

They also have wide mouths with small teeth for eating plankton, krill, and small fish.

Evidence suggests that the whale shark’s average population is 10,000 to 20,000 globally. The species usually travel alone but can sometimes gather in groups of 50 or 100.

The average whale shark has a lifespan of about 70 years as they mature slowly. However, the creature has long been listed as vulnerable to extinction with threats like fishing, harvesting for their fins and meat, and boat collisions.

The giant fish usually prefers to swim near the surface but can dive up to 1,000 meters. It also lays its fish eggs inside the uterus and gives birth after mating. It then takes care of the younger whale sharks until they are old enough to fend for themselves.

Most whale sharks can be found in southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and off the coast of tropical southern countries such as Brazil.

The coastlines of these areas offer the perfect conditions for whale sharks to thrive, with an abundance of plankton and krill.

However, you can occasionally find whale sharks in other regions with warm waters.

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous?

No, whale sharks are not considered dangerous to humans. The creatures are often interested in human activities such as swimming, diving, and snorkeling.

Young woman snorkeling underwater looks at a large whale shark. Philippines

They are naturally curious animals and interact more with humans than other ocean creatures.

Their personal features, such as their small teeth, are not powerful enough to be hazardous to humans, so they can’t bite or cause injuries.

However, due to their large sizes, they can accidentally knock a person while interacting, so it is important to be aware of your surroundings and use caution when in the presence of a whale shark.

Is It Safe to Swim with Whale Sharks?

As they are generally peaceful, swimming with whale sharks can be safe. The creature can improve your swimming experience by providing close encounters with its beauty.

They can also be trained to recognize humans and, in some cases, even allow people to ride on their backs while they swim.

whale shark pose zero threat human population

The creature can offer a sense of tranquility in deep waters as you observe its graceful movements. However, respecting the whale shark and maintaining a distance is important.

You can follow the guidance of authorities and professional whale shark tour operators to ensure your safety. Here are some of the safety tips you should keep in mind when you go swimming with whale sharks to ensure responsible tourism:

  • Don’t touch or harass the shark: If you swim too close or try to touch the shark, it may become scared and change its behavior. It can also move drastically and injure you with its huge body.
  • Don’t use flash photography: Flash photography can startle the whale shark and cause it to flee.
  • Be aware of your physical condition, such as fatigue, when swimming with whale sharks: Ensure you are physically fit before entering the water because whale sharks tend to swim in deep waters and can be difficult to swim with.
  • Pay attention to the environment: Be aware of other marine animals and divers who may be in the area. You can also pay attention to any features that may harm the whale shark to ensure it maintains its calm personality.
  • Follow the guidance of authorities: Do not go beyond the designated swimming areas and follow the instructions of tour operators to avoid any potential risks.
  • Follow local rules and regulations: Ensure you are familiar with the local laws and regulations when swimming with whale sharks.

Swimming with whale sharks can be a unique and exciting experience, but it is also important to know the safety tips to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. You can research the whale shark species and familiarize yourself with the safety tips before embarking on your swimming adventure.

10 Whale Shark Facts

Seeing a whale shark can be an amazing experience, but there are still many facts that you may not know about these gentle giants.

Biggest Whale Shark species swimming in temperate waters

Here are ten fun facts about whale sharks:

  • Whale sharks are migratory creatures: The whale shark is a migratory creature and travels long distances between feeding and mating grounds. It also follows warm seasonal currents, which migrate mostly between the tropics and subtropics.
  • Whale sharks do not lay eggs: The whale shark mates by internal fertilization and can lay up to 300 eggs in one cycle. It also carries its young in a pouch until they are ready to be born.
  • Whale sharks are solitary creatures: The whale shark is a solitary creature and prefers to be alone most of the time, only coming together to mate. However, it can also gather in groups when food is abundant.
  • Whale sharks have fingerprints: Like humans, whale sharks have unique spots that can help to identify individuals. Scientists use pictures of these spots, also called fingerprints, to track the movements of whale sharks and determine their migration paths. The spot patterns are also thought to be used for communication and species recognition.
  • Eating is a laborious process for a whale shark: The whale shark has to open its wide mouth and suck in water with its gills, filtering out plankton or small fish to eat. It also has to slow down when eating, as the food is often too small to swallow quickly.
  • Whale sharks are not mammals: Unlike whales, whale sharks belong to a group of cartilaginous fishes. The creatures are called whale sharks because of their size and feeding styles.
  • The creature can process more than 6000 liters of water: When feeding, the whale shark sucks in water through its mouth. After closing it, it filters the water through its large gills, which act as a strainer. The gills filter out the water and keep in any solid materials with diameters less than two centimeters.
  • Not all whale sharks survive to adulthood: After the young ones are born, a whale shark does not stay with its baby. The mother leaves the young alone, where it must fend for itself in the open ocean. The hustle leaves only about 10% of the young surviving until adulthood.
  • Whale sharks have thousands of teeth: Despite their gentle and interactive human nature, they have thousands of teeth. The creature has about 3000 tiny teeth, each measuring about one inch. The teeth help in grinding and chewing food.

It is important to remember that although the creatures are not whales, they only share the name with the mammalian species.

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