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Whale sharks are some of the largest creatures in the ocean. Are they sharks, or are they whales? If you would like to learn more about these giants, read on!

A Gentle Ocean Giant

Imagine you are swimming in the warm tropical ocean and a huge fish swims up next to you. But this isn’t just any big fish, it’s the size of a school bus! This may seem terrifying, but no need to panic. This gentle giant is the whale shark; the biggest fish in the ocean. The whale shark isn’t really a whale.

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It is a shark, but not the kind that wants to sink its sharp teeth into your leg. Dive into the ocean with us in this lesson to learn more about whale sharks.

A whale shark, the largest fish in the ocean
Whale shark

What Is a Shark?

Did you know that a shark is a type of fish? Sharks are not the same as most fish that we catch or eat. Fish like salmon and trout are bony fish and they belong in a different group altogether. Sharks do not have skeletons made out of bone, but they are instead made of cartilage.

You can feel your ear to see what cartilage feels like.Sharks also breathe underwater, just like other fish. Unlike whales and other marine mammals that must come to the surface for air, sharks use gills to breathe underwater. And the whale shark is no exception.

What Are Some Features of a Whale Shark?

You already know that whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean.

They can reach around forty feet long, about the length of a school bus! Whale sharks can be blue, gray or brownish in color. Their tail and fin shapes strongly resemble those of fellow sharks. But their markings are quite interesting.

A size comparison of a whale shark next to a diver
whale shark size

Whale sharks have a very unique pattern on their bodies.

Horizontal and vertical lines cover them, forming what looks like a giant checkerboard. In addition, they are covered in rows of white spots as if someone painted them with a paint brush!

What Do Whale Sharks Eat?

Whale sharks have huge, flat mouths. You might imagine that such a large animal must hunt and eat other large ocean creatures. Guess what: the favorite meal of a whale shark is a mouthful of the smallest creatures found in the ocean! Whale sharks love to eat tiny plants and animals known as plankton. They do this by filter feeding.

Wide mouth of the whale shark
Whale shark mouth

To filter feed, whale sharks open their huge mouths and vacuum in large amounts of water. Then, they close their mouths and let the water filter out through their gills. The tiny plankton are trapped inside while the water escapes. Many whales also eat in this same way, which is partly how whale sharks got their name.

Pretty cool way of getting food!

Where Do Whale Sharks Live?

If you wanted to see a whale shark, where would you go? Whale sharks enjoy warm tropical oceans. Many scuba divers have been lucky enough to swim near whale sharks. This is possibly the only type of shark a person would want to swim with!

Lesson Summary

Whale sharks are fish, not whales. They are the largest type of fish, reaching up to around forty feet in length. They have skeletons made of cartilage. Whale sharks are filter feeders and eat plankton.

These gentle creatures live in warm, tropical ocean waters.

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