Now before you all start yelling understand that we are talking about fish – therefore the blue whale, a mammal, which is the largest animal on the planet, cannot, in this instance be considered a fish. We are of course talking about the whale shark – Rhincodon typus – which can grow up to 40 feet long and weigh over 20 tons and because it is a filter feeder, presenting no threat to divers, and an inefficient swimmer, being capable of an average speed of about 3mph, divers can get very close to the whale shark.
As can be seen in the photo above, in comparison with the diver they are very large and inspiring.
But first some stats – as a filter feeder it has a large mouth which can be up to 1.5 meters wide. It has five pairs of large gills and 2 small eyes at the front of its flat head. It has a pair of pectoral fins and two dorsal fins. It is mainly grey in colour with a white under belly and on its back and sides has whitish/yellowish spots which are individual to each whale shark.
They feed on algae, plankton and krill and other small creatures such as squid by sucking in water and then expelling it through the gills during which time the food substances are trapped on a sieve which is called the dermal denticles before being swallowed.
They can be found around the globe in the world’s tropical and temperate seas. It is believed that they are migratory which could be for reasons of food and/or breeding. So do your research but the main places to go to dive with these graceful creature are:
- Belize – Gladden Spit
- Western Australia – Ningaloo Reef
- Honduras – Utila
- Philippines – Batangas, Donsol and Pasacao
- Mexico, Yucatan – Islas Holbox and Mujeres
- Indonesia – Ujong Kulon national park
- Madagascar – Nosy Be
- Mozambique – Tofo Reef
- Tanzania – off the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia
- Thailand – Koh Tao
This is by no means an exhaustive list but it should get you going. It should be noted that the whale shark is fished for commercial reasons but the Philippines, India and Taiwan have banned any commercial exploitation of the fish – well done them. The species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN(International Union of Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources).
Their behaviour towards humans who are diving or snorkelling with them can be almost playful but generally they just continue with the business of survival. To behold these giants in their natural environment is an experience that you could not forget – see in the video below from LiquidVDO what these divers experienced off Koh Tao, Thailand and then start planning your next dive adventure – extreme or what?