The Whale Shark
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Friday May 25, 2012

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The Whale Shark

The whale shark is the largest shark that has itís mouth at the very front of its head and is known to be the largest fish in the sea. It has a wide and flat head, a rounded snout and small eyes. Itís color includes light yellow stripes and large white dots on a dark gray skin. They have 2 dorsal fins, 2 pectoral fins and 5 large gill slots. Although this fish is not a part of the whale family, it has a size that resembles many whale species. Whale sharks grow up to 50 feet in length and can weigh up to 15 tons. They have a mouth that can stretch to 4 feet wide and a jaw lined with over 3,000 teeth. Despite its intimidating presence, this creature is completely harmless to humans. It is estimated that they can live up to 150 years.

The whale shark favors tropical and warm temperate waters all over the world, living in deep waters and coastal areas, swimming near the surface of the water. Whale sharks are generally seen alone, but pairs are seen occasionally.

The whale sharks feed by straining small animals from the water (filter feeding). They do this by swimming with their mouth open to obtain large masses of water filled with organisms, and then closes its mouth, the gill rakers are then used to filter the food from the water, whatever organisms do not pass through the gills are eaten. The organisms that serves as nourishment are plankton, krill, small fish, thimble jellies and squids. Whale sharks are common in March, April and May near Placencia Belize. They appear like clockwork during those months at Gladden Split, where large groups of grouper and snapper gather to spawn with the full moon on each of those months. The large amounts of released eggs and sperm from the spawning provide a plentiful source of protein rich food for the whale sharks. They do not have to travel quickly through the water to filter food, most often they travel less than 3 miles per hour.

The whale sharks reach sexual maturity at age 30 then they are able to mate and reproduce. Researchers are mixed as to whether these sharks lay eggs or give birth to live young. New born whale sharks are generally 2 feet in length. Mor

Photograph courtesy Allan Hines

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