Posted on 30 August 2023
Whale Shark
© GBNMS/Eckert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Whale Sharks Rhincodon typus are the largest fish in the world that can grow up to 20m long. Though called Whale Sharks, they are sharks, not whales. Their body size is similar to that of whales, so they are named ‘Whale Sharks.’
Even with enormous size, Whale Sharks are popularly called ‘gentle giants’ as they do not behave aggressively. Like human fingerprints, Whale Sharks have a unique pattern of spots that allow individual sharks to be identified. 
Whale sharks are found worldwide in tropical and subtropical waters except the Mediterranean Sea. In India, they are distributed all along the Indian coast, and one of their large aggregations is along the Gujarat coast. 
Whale Sharks are filter feeders and eat small shrimp, fish and plankton using its modified gill rakers as a suction filter. Whale Sharks bear 300 rows of teeth but don’t bite or chew. They also tend to aggregate in large numbers in areas with seasonally abundant plankton.
According to Pierce and Norman (2016)[1] the global Whale Shark population declined by more than 50% in over 75 years, and they are assessed as ‘Endangered’ in the IUCN Redlist.
Targeted fisheries and bycatch remain a threat. Demand for their meat, fins, and oil threatens the species, mainly through unregulated fisheries. Furthermore, they are threatened by climate change and plastic pollution.
In India, the species is listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, providing it with the highest protection status. International trade in Whale Sharks is further regulated through CITES. 
[1] Pierce, S.J. and Norman, B. 2016. Rhincodon typus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T19488A2365291.
Whale Shark
© GBNMS/Eckert, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons Enlarge
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