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What is a whale shark?

Whale Shark
Almost every fall around the week of Thanksgiving we have had the luck of encountering the largest fish in the ocean – the elusive Whale Shark.   While reaching lengths of up to 40 feet, many people mistake these slow moving filter feeders as a whale, when actually they are a shark.  An encounter with a Whale Shark in the sub-tropical waters of Hawaii is not a common experience. These photos were taken during a Molokini Snorkel Tour on board the Kai Kanani on 12/05/13

What do they look like?
Whale sharks reach about 40 feet long and weigh over 15 tons. Females are larger than males which is called reverse sexual dimorphism. Streaks and dots of light yellow uniquely mark the dark grey skin. Photographing and comparing the markings is the best way researches have of identifying and comparing these animals.
Whale Shark

Where do they live?
These giant fish can be found in tropical and temperate waters throughout the world though there is still very little known about them. They are a solitary animal that spends most of it’s time at the surface either near the shore or out in the open ocean.

What do they eat?
Whale Sharks are a filter feeder. They suck water through their gill rakers to filter plankton, krill and occasionally small fish such as sardines which they then swallow. The sharks will then expel the water through the gill slits processing up to 36,00 gallons of water a day.

What should I do when I encounter a Whale Shark?
If you come across a whale shark while snorkeling or diving it is best to respect their space. These fish are listed as vulnerable to being put on the endangered list. Photographing is best done from at least 3 feet away. While they only swim about 3MPH, hitching a ride on them is never recommended as they have very thin skin which easily tears and can cause infection.

Whale Shark

Whale Shark encounters and photographs can be submitted to WildBook for Whale Sharks where they monitor the location, movements and sightings.  Encounters with these beautiful animals are amazing and for many a once in a lifetime occurrence to be treasured.