What Is the Whale Shark?
If sharks are “fish” and whales are mammals, then what is the whale shark? It’s a common question, but despite its “last name,” the whale shark is not related to the cetaceans. Its scientific name is Rhincodon typus, and it belongs to the class of Chondrichthyes, fish whose skeleton is made of cartilage (like sharks or stingrays) as opposed to those with a skeleton of bones (which we generally know as “fish”). They are called whale sharks because they are as big as whales.
How Does the Whale Shark Breathe?
How the whale shark breathes is one of the most interesting differences between a whale and a whale shark. Whales can breathe by exposing the top of their heads to the surface when swimming, while whale sharks have the impressive talent of absorbing oxygen from water which they take in through their gills.
Do Whale Sharks Sleep?
Most sharks do not sleep, and whale sharks are no exception. Another characteristic of the whale shark is that it must keep moving to keep the water flowing in its gills. However, they do rest, and part of their brain goes into “sleep mode. ”
Fun Fact: Cat sharks are one of the exceptions to the rule, and there is a famous location off the coast of Isla Mujeres known as the “Cave of the Sleeping Sharks.” It is quite common to see cat sharks resting among the coral. Since these sharks have spiracles on their gills, they do not have to swim constantly as other sharks do. Hence the name of sleeping or resting shark.
What Does the Whale Shark Eat?
Despite its enormous size, the favourite food of these gentle giants is plankton. The whale shark opens its huge mouth to get the necessary amount and sucks up everything nearby, but don’t worry! You are in no danger of being swallowed if you swim nearby because they use the filtration method, where the water is ejected and filtered through the gills. This is how they eat plankton, as well as small fish and molluscs.
Where Does the Whale Shark Live?
If you’re wondering where the whale shark lives, don’t expect a simple answer because these animals seem to like to confuse scientists. The distance a whale shark can travel is impressive, and they like to roam around with no particular direction. Usually, they are solitary, but sometimes they gather to feed in areas where plankton is dense. The waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Holbox offer a plankton feast from May to September, so Cancun is a privileged place to swim with them during whale shark season.
Where Do They Go “Out of Season”?
This is one of the characteristics of the whale shark, where everything becomes imprecise. We know when they arrive, but they leave the area in different directions, and then they disappear entirely! Is there a “Bermuda Whale Shark Triangle” somewhere? There have been attempts to tag whale sharks, and the results show that they migrate to areas southwest in the Gulf to wait for the cold to pass.
How Big Is the Whale Shark?
There is no doubt that whale sharks are VERY long. The longest recorded whale shark in history measured 18.8 meters! But did you know that its mouth can be about 1.5 meters long? That’s the average length of a 12-year-old. Don’t worry, though, whale sharks don’t eat people, and in fact, something that stands out within the whale shark’s characteristics is that they are very docile. This is why whale shark swim tours are very popular during the season; It’s a safe activity where you can jump in the water and literally swim with them.