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The Whale Shark – Prehistoric Denizen Of The Deep
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The Whale Shark is one of the oldest inhabitants of the oceans of the world having evolved around 65 million years ago. It is also the world’s largest fish and filter-feeding shark, the biggest recorded individual was 12.65 metres long. The Whale Shark roams the world’s oceans, preferring tropical and warms seas.

The Whale Shark is so named because it shares a lot of similarity with a whale. It is approximately the size of a whale and it is also a filter-feeder, like many whales. While it has around 3000 teeth, it doesn’t use these at all. The Whale Shark opens its jaws up to 1 metre wide and sucks water and food (krill, crab larvae and jelly-fish) into its mouth, and then expels the water through its gills, trapping the food to be swallowed.

The distinctive spotted markings on the Whale Shark are unique to the individual shark. A Whale Shark can be recognised by its spots. The spots help to camouflage the Whale Shark in its oceanic environment and make it more difficult to see.

Little is known about the Whale Shark’s habits and breeding cycle. Only one pregnant female and few juvenile sharks have ever been discovered. Attempts to breed Whale Sharks in captivity have not yet succeeded.

Whale Sharks are quite rare, and there are few reported sightings. There are a handful of specimens in captivity in various aquariums throughout the world. Most notable is Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, which has two Whale Sharks and the Georgia Aquarium which has four Whale Sharks.

Keeping wild animals caged will always raise ethical issues. Is it right to keep such large migratory animals in such a small tank? The Aquarium in Osaka is 620 cubic meters, and 9 metres deep. The Aquarium in Georgia is much larger at 31,000 cubic meters, and 10 metres deep. Whale Sharks dive to depths of 100 metres and more and travel thousands of kilometres in their migrations.

It is possible that captive Whale Sharks will benefit the species as a whole by raising awareness and awe in the people who come to visit. Hopefully, viewing the Whale Shark’s in captivity may inspire more conservation efforts to be made to keep these enormous fish alive in their natural environment. Eco-tourism is growing in areas where the Whale Shark has been known to congregate in the wild so it is clear there is an interest in seeing the sharks in their natural habitat.


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