The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is not only the biggest species of shark, but it is also the biggest fish in the world. Scientists also consider the whale shark to be one of the biggest vertebrates that is not a mammal. The biggest whale shark ever discovered, according to the Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats, was approximately 41.5 feet long and weighed nearly 47,000 pounds. Whale sharks are commonly located in tropical waters all over the world and prefer warm waters with a temperature higher than 70°F. Whale sharks typically live in the open seas and avoid living deep within the ocean although they have been known to dive nearly 6,000 feet deep in search of food. The exact lifespan of the species is unknown, but scientists estimate that they can live for approximately 70 years. Whale sharks move slowly and feed through filter feeding unlike other well-known sharks such as the hammerhead and the tiger shark. The species was given the name whale shark due to their huge size as well as their feeding habits which are similar to those of the baleen whales. Whale sharks are considered docile, and divers have spotted them in some areas such as Honduras, the Philippines, and the Galapagos islands.
Best Places to See Whale Sharks
The East Coast of Africa
One of the best places in the world to see whale sharks is off Africa's eastern coast in countries such as Kenya, Mozambique, Djibouti, and Tanzania. In Mozambique, whale sharks are commonly spotted from November to February. The Bazaruto Archipelago National Marine Park offers visitors the best location to view the whale sharks as they feed on krill. People can also spot whale sharks from Tofo Beach which is situated north of the capital Maputo. Several diving centers have been established in these areas to give visitors the opportunity to swim alongside the whale sharks. Due to Tanzania's proximity to Mozambique, whale sharks appear in the nation coast around the same time as in Mozambique. The best location to spot them while in Tanzania is on Mafia Island. Whale sharks visit Djibouti's territorial waters to feed on the plankton within the Red Sea. While in the Red Sea, the fish dive for approximately 82 feet deep which are challenging for inexperienced divers. Whale sharks are also commonly spotted off the coast of Madagascar. The best place to see whale sharks in the country is Nosy Be Island which has a fully equipped dive center allowing people to swim with the sharks.
The 43,433 square mile nation of Honduras is another excellent place to see whale sharks particularly in the island of Utila. The island is unique since whale sharks can be spotted there throughout the year. The whale sharks usually congregate near the northern edge of the island and stay within the deep waters. The Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre were situated in Utila due to the constant presence of whale sharks. The center has contributed significantly to the global understanding of whale sharks. Apart from Utila, whale sharks are often spotted off the Coast of Roatan Island in the Caribbean.
Whale sharks are also commonly spotted in Australia particularly in Ningaloo Reef. The reef is often considered one of the best locations for divers to swim alongside whale sharks due to the clear waters. The Ningaloo Marine Park was established to conserve the marine ecosystem in the region. Due to the significant role it plays in conservation the Ningaloo Marine Park, it was listed as a World Heritage Site. Whale Sharks can be spotted in Australia from March to July due to the feeding opportunities provided by spawning of coral.
Mexico is one of the premier destinations to spot whale sharks in their natural habitat. Some of the best places to see the whale sharks in Mexico are Holbox Island and Isla Mujeres. The waters around these islands are perfect for whale sharks since they are warm and contain vast quantities of plankton that form a vital part of the whale sharks' diet. The most opportune time to see whale sharks in Mexico is from June to September.
Indonesia is also a great spot to see whale sharks in the wild. Due to Indonesia's unique geography, whale sharks can be spotted in some destinations such as Cendrawasih Bay and Gorontalo. The Cendrawasih Bay has the distinction of being Indonesia's most extensive marine park and apart from conserving the local marine environment; it is a place where scientists research on whale sharks. The best place to see whale sharks is at Kwantisore village because they are spotted dozens of times. Visitors to Indonesia can also see whale sharks in Botubarani Village located in Gorontalo. Botubarani Village is often considered as the easiest place to see whale sharks in Indonesia which attracts vast numbers of tourists to the region. Whale sharks are common in Botubarani Village from December to April. In Indonesia, whale sharks can also be spotted in Derawan Island and near Bentar beach.
Conservation of Whale Sharks
The specific population of whale sharks in the world is unknown; however, the IUCN listed them as endangered primarily because of human activities such as fishing and spilling oil into the ocean. The global population of whale sharks faces significant challenges, particularly in China and Oman where they are killed in large quantities to obtain oil, fins, and skins. The whale sharks often collide with ships causing injuries that in some instances are fatal. Whale sharks also face a significant challenge from large gill nets that trap them as bycatch. To increase the global population of whale sharks, the Philippines, India, and Taiwan made it illegal to fish or trade in whale shark parts. Whale sharks are also protected by keeping them in captivity where they can be nursed back to health if they are injured. When fishers capture whale sharks, some organizations offer to pay them for the fish instead of the fish being sold on the markets. One of the methods that have been suggested to try and conserve the whale sharks is through ecotourism. Due to their docile nature, people can swim alongside them which would boost tourism in the areas where they are spotted.