Whale sharks are the most large fish that are in the ocean and knowing this you may be led to wonder if this species in particular has any predators or if they are the apex predator of their habitat and will not fall prey to any other species.
The answer to this question is that whale sharks can fall prey to other different species because they are quite slow. They also do not attack any other species due to the fact that they are filter feeders.
They are tough however with them benign so large in size as well as how many teeth they have.
The species which can be predators for a whale shark include species like other sharks, killer whales, blue marlins, and one of the most dangerous, humans.
While a whale shark which is an adult does not have to worry too much about being prey, the more old and sick whale sharks will much more easily fall to predators.
The rest of this article will focus more on the traits of whale sharks and how this leads to their role as predator or prey. If you have any questions about specific attributes of whale sharks, keep reading!
What Does A Whale Shark Eat?
While the name whale shark is how this species is commonly referred to, this species is actually a fish and not technically a whale.
While this species is incredibly large, and has a massive array of teeth like sharks do, this species is not a hunter species like sharks and is instead a filter feeder.
This means that whale sharks mostly subsist off a diet of plankton, however they also consume species like crab, jellyfish, krill, mackerel, and squid.
The way a filter feeder eats is by simply opening their mouth and swimming making it, so everything will just go right into their mouth.
After this the whale’s mouth will be full of food, so it will close it and then let the water out through its gills. They will also avoid eating food which is too big like crabs or squids.
Humans are not eaten by this shark, or any shark, so humans will not be hunted by it, and they do not use their teeth actively while hunting prey.
What Kills Whale Sharks?
Since these fish are so large, it feels important to understand what is capable of killing them. The size of these fish is often compared to a school bus which is why they are titled the largest fish in the world.
In spite of this, as previously stated, they feed off of the microscopic plankton as well as small fish. But what hunts them?
There are other different types of shark like great whites, tiger sharks, as well as killer whales or orcas, and these can kill a small and young or a sickly and old whale shark without too much effort.
However, these species will struggle to kill a big strong adult whale shark.
Similar to many other shark species, one of their biggest fears is humans with humans not having any reason to fear them as we are not what they eat.
Humans have hunted whale sharks before using mainly its fins, flesh, and oil.
How Do Whale Sharks Reproduce?
Even though this species is so large, when it does not want to be seen, it will become evasive.
This also makes it, so this species is relatively unseen when it reproduces, so we do not know that much about the mating behavior of this species.
There has been research on this however, with it being suggested that the shark will be around 25 or 30 years old before it will even be ready to reproduce.
This species of shark is ovoviviparous which means that the eggs will hatch when they are still inside them, and they will be inside capsules feeding off the yolk of the egg.
After the whale pups have gotten a sufficient amount of nourishment, they will then be born and the sperm will be able to be stored, so it can be used later for fertilizing a different egg.
This species is not cared for by its mother once it has been born however with this species becoming mostly self-sufficient and independent once it has been born.
How Long Do Whale Sharks Live?
As known by many shark experts, sharks are made for survival being apex predators usually and while the whale shark’s average life span is not the most accurate, it is estimated they can live for around 70 years.
However, it has been recorded that this species can live over 100 years and in some case even up to 130 years.
This potential life span length makes this one of Earth’s longest living sea creatures.
This puts this species alongside other species like green sea turtles living for around 80 years, the blue whale at between 80 and 90, but not as high as the Greenland shark which can live up to 400 years!
In spite of this long life span, the population of this species is slowly dwindling due to them being preyed on by other sharks as well as human on top of this.
As previously mentioned, they have been hunted for their fins, flesh, and oil and the amount they got hunted by humans got so extreme in some countries that the practice has either become highly regulated or just banned, however, this has not deterred some people from carrying on illegally.
Do Whale Sharks Attack Humans?
This is one of the most commonly asked questions about whale sharks since many swimmers, surfers, snorkelers, and divers worry about their safety around this species or waters they could be in.
Like many other sharks, this shark does not actively hunt humans as it is not what their diet consists of.
Most of the records of shark attacks being done to humans are usually incidental or accidental and are because of a shark’s simple curiosity of what is in its waters.
The sharks will usually be drawn in by the bright colors of some people swimsuits or any jewelry or splashing which is done by humans.
Whale sharks specifically are not seen as dangerous for humans and occasionally will even interact with humans on boats or divers.
Due to the massive size of these species many assume they will act differently, but most divers who have interacted with them describe their behavior as playful, especially the younger whale sharks.
Statistics show that whale sharks are 1 of 9 species which are nowhere near as dangerous as the general public expect them to be.
The only times when this species is dangerous is when they accidentally swat swimmers or divers who have gotten too close to their tails.
How Fast Do Whale Sharks Swim?
Most other sharks are known for how fast they are at swimming and this is seen as one of the most impressive traits of this species which is used to either escape predators or attack prey.
However, this is not a trait which is shared by whale sharks which are comparatively slow swimmers only being able to reach about 3 miles an hour in comparison to a shortfin mako being able to reach an insane 45 miles an hour.
On average, most humans will be able to swim at a rate of about 2 miles per hour, so this means that well-trained snorkelers will be able to keep up with the speed of a whale shark.
In comparison, famous swimmer Michael Phelps is able to reach 6 miles an hour meaning he could easily out swim this shark species.
What Do Whale Sharks Look Like?
Other than the giant size of the whale shark, the other interesting trait they have is their skin which is patterned uniquely.
The best way to describe the patterning on a whale shark is like the fingerprint of a human since each is unique, and they will never be the same.
Whale sharks have 3 ridges which go across either side of their body and the skin’s pattern is unique with white stripes and spots which contrast their gray/blue skiing tone with a white belly in comparison.
A fact about a whale shark’s skin is that it is the toughest and the thickest of any species in the world which is why this species is so difficult to prey on.
The structure of a whale shark’s body can actually be compared closely to a catfish but what makes them different is their large mouth which is around 5 feet wide and having 300 rows of teethe with 20 filter pads.
How Do Whale Sharks Protect Themselves?
Due to all their teeth and massive size, you would think this species does not need protection, but because this species is quite slow and does not use its teeth it actually needs other methods of protection.
Unfortunately, the main method these sharks use in self-defense is their thick skin to protect them. This means this species does not have many methods of active defense.
Luckily they are protected from humans by government acts to regulate their hunting and keep their population up as they are unfortunately close to extinction, especially in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.