The whale shark is a species of slow-moving shark that
can be found in all warm-temperate and tropical seas.
More specifically, it inhabits the pelagic zone, or
any area of the sea that is close to neither the shore
nor the ocean's floor. However, the whale shark seasonally
ventures to coastal regions to feed.
It is believed that, on average, the whale shark lives
for 70 to 100 years.The whale shark reaches sexual maturity
at around 30 years of age. After a female whale shark
becomes pregnant, it gives birth to about 300 live pups
gradually over an extended period of time.
As its name indicates, the whale shark is the largest
known fish that lives today. They typically measure
around 40 feet in length, but many unconfirmed reports
suggest the existence of larger whale sharks. The average
weight of the whale shark is even more impressive; a
typical whale shark weighs over 47,000 pounds.
Despite their great size, whale sharks are not predators;
their teeth, of which they have 300 to 350 rows, are
small, and they rely on filter-feeding for sustenance.
This attribute makes the whale shark one of only three
filter-feeding shark species. Due to its means of eating,
the whale shark's diet consists mostly of plankton,
algae, krill, crab larvae, as well as small animals
such as squid.
The whale shark is not only simply not a predator,
but somewhat of a gentle giant. The whale shark is docile
in nature, and tends to behave peacefully towards humans.
Some whale sharks have even permitted human divers to
"catch a ride" by grabbing onto them, though experts
advise against encouraging this behavior. Because of
their less massive size, young whale sharks tend to
be very gentle, and are often inclined to play with
The whale shark has been valued by numerous human cultures.
A testament to this statement is that an image of a
whale shark is featured on the back of the 100 Philippine
peso bill. The whale shark is even regarded as a deity
in Vietnamese culture. Less dramatically, they have
also captured the attention of many humans by serving
as major attractions in marine parks.
Unfortunately, whale sharks face a danger from humans.
Several commercial fisheries target them, a practice
that contributes to their status as a vulnerable species,
the label given to species that risk becoming endangered.
Other human activities such as the use of marine life
in amusement parks and especially environmental damages
such as oil spills also pose a potential threat to the
whale shark population.
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