Whale Sharks in the Whitsundays
Whale sharks are one of the biggest animals in the ocean, and definitely the biggest fish trolling waters worldwide. But don’t let their size fool you! These gentle giants resemble a whale and act like a puppy, with their friendly attitude and passive and docile ways. They are however, a shark and belong to the class chondrichthyes. They can grow up to 12 metres in length and can weigh up to an amazing 19 000kg (or over 40 000lbs). Aside from their size, they are be easily distinguished by their flat heads, or by spots and bars that cover their entire bodies, giving them a unique and mesmerising pattern.
While not a frequent flyer in the Whitsundays, whale sharks have been known to visit the islands and the east coast of Australia. Widely spotted on the west coast in Nigaloo Reef, they are more infrequently spotted on the east coast of Australia, about 8 times a year.
While scientists say that they likely visit a lot more than we see them or notice, it still isn't for certain how many of these animals visit the Great Barrier Reef or the Whitsundays each year.
Although whale sharks are carnivorous they are luckily of no threat to humans. They are filter feeders that filter anything and everything in their path to eat tiny plants, small fish and plankton, but nothing as large as people! They do have about 3,000 tiny teeth, but suck everything through their mouth and flush the water out through their mesh covered gills. In general, they live in all tropical waters about 30º north and south of the equator in deep water, shallow seas and reefs.
As with most animals, their biggest threat to whale sharks comes from humans. While they are protected in Australia, they are hunted in other parts of the world, and are considered a vulnerable and declining species.