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4 things you didn't know about the whale shark

Shark Week is upon us, and we're celebrating with our favorite giant fish!

July 7, 2015 | Latest Photo Prev Next
A whale shark swims in the Red SeaA whale shark swims in the Red SeaPhoto: dive-hive / Shutterstock
July 7, 2015 | Latest Photo

In celebration of Shark Week, we're taking a closer look at the ocean's biggest fish: the whale shark.

Here's what you may not have already known about this humongous species of marine animal:

1. Whale sharks are the largest fish – of all time.

Their giant size is what gives these sharks their name. According to marine biologist Robert Heuter, these are the largest fish that have ever existed. "There's nothing bigger in the fossil record," Heuter told NPR.

Whale sharks can grow to more than 30 feet long. The typical whale shark grows to be about the size of a school bus, and weighs even more – approximately 10 tons!

2. Juvenile whale sharks hang out just like teenagers do.

A 'teen hangout' was discovered in the Red Sea when a congregation hundreds of juvenile whale sharks were seen swimming in the same area near a coral reef. Equal numbers of male and female sharks have been observed mingling in the reef for several years, and tracking these animals can lead scientists to understand where whale sharks go – and why.

3. Whale sharks are a migratory species.

Whale sharks have been tracked migrating all around the world, from their various warm-water homes all the way to Australia every spring – thousands of miles for some populations! Large populations can be found in the Yucatan Peninsula, but they've also been tracked to the mid-Atlantic and spotted in the Red Sea near Israel. They migrate to feed and, most likely, to breed.

4. Whale sharks are harmless to humans.

With a throat the size of a quarter and a diet that mainly consists of plankton, filter-feeding whale sharks are nothing to worry about.

While humans aren't threatened by this species, that doesn't go both ways. The IUCN Red List flags whale sharks as a threatened species, and international cooperation is required to keep these enormous beauties swimming free in the ocean.

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Related Topics: Animals