Whale Sharks | WWF

Whale Shark

© WWF
Scientific Names:
Rhincondon typus
 
Habitat:
Open ocean and nearshore coastal areas.
 
Status:
Vulnerable
© WWF

OVERVIEW

Whale sharks are the largest sharks in the world – truly the biggest fish in the sea!  Like human fingerprints, whale sharks have a unique pattern of spots that allow individual sharks to be identified.  Whale sharks filter tiny plankton through their massive gills. The distribution of whale sharks points to the presence of plankton and serves as an indicator of overall ocean and ecosystem health.

WHAT WWF IS DOING

WWF has been working in collaboration with Mexican authorities and local organizations to address threats to Whale Sharks. In a multi-pronged approach WWF combines science and research with awareness raising and public-private partnerships to improve best practices of tour operators and tourists, ensure good governance and enforcement of regulations and to monitor the whale shark population.

LOVE FOR THE REEF

© WWF GUATEMALA/MESOAMERICA

© WWF GUATEMALA/MESOAMERICA

THREATS

©: WWF

DIRECT CONSUMPTION OF MEAT AND FINS

Whale sharks are a delicacy in many parts of the world. People pay a very high price for the fins, meat, and oil. International market demand is high and whale sharks continue  to be targeted to meet this demand, especially in areas where the fisheries lack  regulations or enforcement.

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BYCATCH

Poor fishing practices threaten whale sharks when the capture methods unintentionally target the whale shark, an event referred to as bycatch, and injure or kill the animal.

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MARINE DEBRIS AND POLLUTION

Marine debris, including cans, plastic bags and bottles, often ends up in oceans and other waterways, endangering whale sharks through the risk of entanglement or ingestion of this toxic and indigestible garbage. 

©: WWF

TOURISM AND COASTAL DEVELOPMENT DEGRADATION OF COASTAL AND MARINE HABITAT

Coastal development has degraded the marine habitat that supports the health of whale shark populations. Increased tourism and boat traffic can also interrupt feeding habits and cause injuries to the sharks through collision with boats and their propellers, as well as swimmers and divers who approach whale sharks.

©: WWF

CLIMATE CHANGE

Measurements over the last 45 years show that mean water temperature increasing, and this trend is expected to continue. As the water warms, it affects species distribution, including larvae and plankton that whale sharks eats.  Animals across the food chain will face the threat of shifting food cycles and movements. Although hard to predict precisely, the impact to whale sharks is likely to be significant.

PHOTO GALLERY

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

Practice responsible whale shark tourism and never eat whale shark meat.