1. True or False? Whale sharks are sharks that eat whales.

Answer: False! Whale sharks are named for their similar size and feeding habits to whales. A full-grown whale shark is larger than a humpback whale. Whale sharks are the largest fish on Earth. And they one of the largest animals overall, behind blue whales and a few other species.

A snorkeler with three whale sharks. Image: Rhett A. Butler

Whale sharks do not eat whales. Whale sharks feed on the same prey that baleen whales do – plankton and schools of fish. They can eat almost 50 pounds of plankton a day, which is a lot of fish eggs, shrimp, copepods, other marine invertebrates, and other planktonic organisms. Whale sharks spend many hours a day opening their big mouths and vacuuming up their plankton buffet.

A whale shark in the Sea of Cortez. Image: Rhett A. Butler
A whale shark feeding. Image: Rhett A. Butler

2. True or False? Female whale sharks are larger than male whale sharks.

Answer: True! Scientists studying whale shark growth have found that male whale sharks grow more quickly than female whale sharks and can reach a length of 8-9 m (26.2-29.5 feet). Slow and steady wins the whale shark growth race though, as females eventually reach a length of up to 14 m (46 feet).

Whale shark. Image: Rhett A. Butler

3. True or False? Whale sharks are found in only a few places on Earth.

Answer: False! Whale sharks are found in all warm and tropical seas on Earth. And they have been seen around all continents except for Antarctica. Although they are widely distributed, whale sharks are considered to be an endangered species on the IUCN Red List (the widely-accepted global list of conservation status). Whale sharks are vulnerable to being hit by ships. They can also be caught up in fishing nets intended for other fish species.

People still know relatively little about whale sharks despite their large size and wide distribution. If you are interested in whale sharks, perhaps you will help find ways to learn about them and protect them and their important habitats.

Overhead photo of a whale shark feeding at the sea surface. Image: Rhett A. Butler