The whale shark is renowned for being the largest fish that has ever lived. It is a lot 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 captured.
Female whale sharks are larger than the males, which grow to about two-thirds the period of the females. This is true for several other large sharks, especially those longer than 10 feet.
Whale sharks, as their name illustrates, are members of the shark family. Yet they aren’t killers. The truth is it is among the most docile animals in the sea. Though it’s a shark, it’s a filter feeder; it has no teeth. The whale shark’s large mouth could surround a school of fish or shrimp, which can be filtered from the water as it passes through a fine net of gill rakers at the back of the mouth.
Whale sharks usually swim alone. They are so slow that many fish will accompany them for food and protection. Few fish in the sea are willing to tackle that, however peaceful it may be. Underwater divers that are lucky enough to experience this rare fish have managed to hitch rides on their giant dorsal fin.
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 need for the killings. By then many populations of the fish had declined, so the chemists could have saved them from oblivion. Some sharks continue to be fished for food, but the whale shark is tough and not great eating.