The whale shark is renowned for being the largest fish that has ever lived. It is much smaller than many whales, but whales are mammals. Adults can reach lengths up to 60 feet and weigh as much as 10 tons. Some have measured an incredible 75 feet long when caught.
Female whale sharks are larger than the males, which grow to approximately two-thirds the period of the females. This is true for several other large sharks, particularly those longer than 10 feet.
Whale sharks, as their title attests, are members of the shark family. Yet they are not killers. The truth is it is one of the most docile creatures in the sea. Though it’s a shark, it’s a filter feeder; it has no teeth. The whale shark’s big mouth can encircle a school of fish or shrimp, which are filtered out of the water as it passes through a fine net of gill rakers in the back of the mouth.
Whale sharks usually swim alone. They are so slow that many fish will accompany them for protection and food. Not many fish in the sea are willing to tackle that, however peaceful it may be. Underwater divers who are fortunate enough to encounter this rare fish have been able to hitch rides on their giant dorsal fin.
Whale sharks often swim lazily in the surface where, in earlier times, they were harpooned and brought ashore. In the 1930s and 1940s, hunters sought them for their livers, which are full of vitamin A. In the 1940s, chemists discovered how to make vitamin A in the laboratory so, suddenly, there was no requirement for the killings. By then many people of the fish had declined, so the chemists may have saved them from oblivion. Some sharks continue to be fished for food, but the whale shark is tough and not great eating.