Taken on: Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 at the Georgia Aquarium at Atlanta, Georgia.
Ocean Voyager Journey with Giants
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world. Despite the name, it is not a whale. Because of its size, it is impossible to weigh accurately. Newborns have been found measuring 21-25 inches, and the largest accurately measured whale shark was 40 feet, 7 inches, although there were reports of a 60-foot whale shark in 1925.
It can be recognized by the two-toned pattern of light spots on its dark back and white underside. Unlike most shark species, the mouths of whale sharks are located at the front of their heads instead of the underside of their snouts. They have a huge mouth, which can reach up to four feet across. There are 300 rows of tiny teeth along the inner surface of the jaw, just inside the lips. They feed on planktonic and nektonic prey, such as fish, small crustaceans and squid that they strain from the water through their gills.
The Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium that is outside Asia to house whale sharks.
See the enormous Whale Sharks in Ocean Voyager.
■The skin of a whale shark can be as thick as four inches.
■The whale shark is known to be highly migratory, covering almost 808 miles.
■It is often seen in a vertical position with the head at or near the surface when feeding.
■It is ovoviviparous, meaning the embryo is formed within eggs retained in the womb.
■There are only nine places in the world known to provide predictable whale shark findings.
The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a slow moving filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species. It can grow up to 12.2 m (40 ft) in length and can weigh up to 13.6 tonnes (15 short tons). This distinctively-marked shark is the only member of its genus Rhincodon and its family, Rhincodontidae (called Rhinodontes before 1984), which is grouped into the subclass Elasmobranchii in the class Chondrichthyes. The shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea and can live for about 70 years. The species is believed to have originated about 60 million years ago. Although whale sharks have very large mouths, they feed mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton, microscopic plants and animals (a whale shark was observed feeding on a school of small fish in the BBC program Planet Earth).
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