Just How Big Is A Whale Shark?

Whale sharks are incredibly large animals. They are the biggest species of shark there is and not only this but they are the largest of all fish species.

You’ll usually find whale sharks in large open waters, particularly tropical oceans as they don’t like to swim in waters below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Just How Big Is A Whale Shark

So just how big are these massive creatures? Well, they’re large enough that they can struggle to carry their own weight and can even find it difficult to eat due to their size.

They can even grow to be over 40 feet long. So it’s abundantly clear that these fascinating creatures are very large but throughout this article, we will go into further detail about all the interesting facts about whale sharks’ size. 

How Large Is A Full-Grown Whale Shark?

A fully matured whale shark will grow to be over 40 feet (12 meters) long and can weigh as much as a  whopping 20.6 tons.

There is no other fish that surpasses this, so in both weight and size, the whale shark is the biggest fish going. 

How Big Does A Whale Shark Measure (In Feet)?

As mentioned above, a fully grown whale shark has the potential to reach 40 feet or 12 meters long at its largest. On average, most whale sharks will be between 18 and 32.8 feet which is about 5.5 – 10 meters. 

To put it into perspective as to just how large they are, the only animal that comes anywhere close in comparison is the blue whale.

A blue whale (which are also known for being huge) is about the same size as a whale shark, however, they’re mammals rather than fish. 

How Heavy Are Whale Sharks?

Now, it’s not as if capturing a whale shark from the ocean to weigh it is any easy feat, and so there isn’t masses of information on exactly how much whale sharks weigh.

That being said there has been research and weight estimations done on whale sharks and where possible there have been weighings of the occasional whale shark.

When a researcher did get the chance to weigh the incredibly large fish, it was found that it weighed a massive 39.7 tons (36,000 kg.) So they are as heavy, if not heavier, than a large school bus – which is quite a weight. 

Which Is Larger: Whale Shark Vs The Megalodon

The megalodon is a species of shark that is now tragically extinct. However, when they did use to roam the seas they were arguably the largest fish in the waters.

There is some debate as to whether whale sharks or megalodons take the title of largest fish in the sea. 

On average a megalodon would measure around 12.65 meters (41.5 feet) which was larger than the average whale shark. In most cases, a megalodon would tend to be larger than a whale shark.

However, some researchers established that the absolute largest whale sharks could reach around 59 feet (18 meters) which does surpass the megalodon. 

It is really hard to accurately measure and report though, so it’s difficult to know for sure.

But the information at hand suggests that megalodons did tend to be larger than most whale sharks, but that particularly large whale sharks had the potential to surpass the megalodon.

However, since we have now sadly, and permanently lost the megalodon species in our ocean the whale shark takes the title of largest fish. 

How Big Is A Baby Whale Shark?

Even as newborns these types of sharks are not small. A baby whale shark will be anywhere between 16-24 inches long from birth.

So it’s probably not surprising to learn that they grow into the largest fish in the ocean as they continue to develop. 

Is A Whale Shark Bigger Than A Blue Whale?

The whale shark and the blue whale fall under two different classifications of sea animals. A whale shark is categorized as a fish, while a blue whale is categorized as a mammal.

Both hold the titles for the largest animal within their category but are they actually similar sizes? 

Not really. A whale shark does not quite compare to the size of a blue whale. As we’ve mentioned a couple of times now, a whale shark comes to around 40 feet long whereas a blue whale can be as much as 100 feet long.

Blue whales are also significantly heavier than whale sharks. But it’s no easy task to be bigger and heavier than a blue whale which holds the title of the largest living animal on the entire planet.

This by no means suggests that whale sharks are small though, they are still the largest living non-mammal across the globe. 

The Biggest Whale Shark On Record

Of course, the ocean is a very large space that still has massive chunks that have yet to be explored, so who knows what the actual largest whale shark weighs in at.

However, the largest whale shark on record weighed in at just under 40 tons which for reference is around three and a half times as heavy as an anchor of a cruise ship or nineteen times heavier than a rhinoceros. 

How Big Is A Whale Sharks Throat?

You might be surprised to learn that whale sharks don’t actually have that large of throats. Given their gigantic size, you’d think that every body part would be super large, but this isn’t actually the case. 

The mouth of a whale shark is very large and can even open over a meter in length, but in comparison, they have quite a small throat.

But since this species of shark are filter feeders they don’t really have a massive need for an enlarged throat since they do not eat large prey. 

How Big Is A Whale Sharks Stomach? 

Just as the whale shark has no need for a large throat, they also do not need a particularly large stomach.

This is because they don’t eat large prey like other sharks such as seals, instead, a whale shark much prefers to snack on fish eggs or plankton instead. 

Since they do not consume larger animals, their stomachs simply haven’t been made large enough to contain them.

They do not have the space in their throats nor their stomach for big aquatic life.

It is only their mouths that are proportionate to their size, and if they do swallow something large perhaps by mistake they will usually spit it straight back out. 

Just How Big Is A Whale Shark

How Wide Does A Whale Shark Open Its Mouth?

We’ve established that whale sharks do have large mouths, so just how wide do they open up to?

A Whale shark will open its mouth nice and wide to let water plankton and little fishes fill their mouths, and thus be consumed.

When they do this they can open their mouths as wide as 5 feet showing over 300 teeth rows positioned on each jaw. A whale shark’s teeth are very small and all point backward. 

Gentle Giants Of The Ocean 

You hear the word shark, and then see the sheer size of these magnificent creatures and people tend to be terrified. However, there really is no need to be at all.

Despite their size, whale sharks really don’t eat all that much or often, and when they do they’re snacking on plankton, small fish, or fish eggs. 

A whale shark won’t eat big creatures and doesn’t tend to gruesomely hunt prey. Many would think that to be such a size they must be feeding constantly, but their size is just down to nature.

So don’t be frightened of these sharks, they honestly just enjoy staying by themselves, swimming around the large spans of water, and occasionally munching on a small fish or two. 

How Large Is A Whale Shark In Comparison To A Human?

Whale sharks are a lot, lot bigger than humans. You will probably get fully grown adults that will be larger than a whale shark pup, but that’s about it. Not one of us stands a chance against a fully grown adult whale shark. 

The average human is around 5.6 feet long (1.7m) which compared to the 20 to 30 feet of the adult whale shark is shockingly small. So on average a whale shark is around four times longer than the average human. 

Whale Sharks And Weight Shedding

As is the case for any animal on the planet, if a whale shark stops eating or becomes malnourished it will start to lose weight.

It is possible for every animal to shed some weight one way or another. So it is possible for these larger animals to decrease in size. 

However, the likelihood of seeing a whale shark that has shed considerable weight is very slim.

This is because the oceans are jam-packed full of many species of different fish and so the chances of a whale shark going without eating anything is very unlikely.

And even if the worst was to happen and there were no fish in the ocean, sharks tend to be an extremely adaptable species and so it is likely they would soon find a new food source. 

Final Thoughts

So what have we learned throughout this article? We have certainly discovered that whale sharks are very large in size beaten really only by the world’s largest living animal the blue whale.

Yet the whale shark still claims the title of the largest non-mammal species. 

We also learned some very interesting facts that help us gauge or imagine the size of such enormous animals.

A whale shark is as heavy as a large school bus, nineteen times heavier than a rhinoceros, and three and a half times heavier than an anchor on a cruise ship. They are around 40 feet long and weigh close to 40 tons too. 

But despite their gigantic size, these sharks are not heavy eaters that get through plenty of big animals a day. In fact, they much prefer to feed on smaller fish and fish eggs as well as plankton.

And actually, due to their surprisingly small mouth and throat, they don’t actually have the capacity to consume anything larger than what is mentioned above. 

So I think it’s fair to say that the answer to the question ‘Just how big is a whale shark’ is very very large! 

Mikayla Adams

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