The name of this species is conflicting. Is it a whale or a shark? The answer? The largest species of shark in our current ecosystem.
There is no need to play the jaws theme song around these gentle giants. Whale Sharks are filter feeders that collect tiny plankton and fish eggs as they swim about the ocean with their incredibly large mouths open. As said by Oceana, scientists believe some individuals swim across entire oceans just in time for a plankton bloom or a mass spawning of fish or coral eggs. The species are extremely slow-moving and only swim at speeds of around 3 miles per hour. World Wilde Life explains Whale sharks can process more than 1585 gallons of water an hour through their gills.
Whale Sharks are located worldwide in the tropical waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans and are typically found offshore but will frequent shallow waters for food.
According to Oceana, Whale sharks are so unique that shark researchers use a specialized computer software, originally used for star mapping, to identify whale sharks from photos based on their spot patterns. These spot patterns are similar to human fingerprints. The population trend of whale sharks is decreasing globally, likely because they have been heavily fished or accidentally caught in fishing gear.
The IUCN Red List status was last assessed in 2016, and whale sharks were listed as endangered. In October of 2021, the green status assessment determined the population was largely depleted.
The Georgia Aquarium is the only aquarium in North America that holds whale sharks up close for conservation and research efforts.
If you can’t get to Atlanta to see these gentle giants, whale sharks can be seen from the aquarium via their Ocean Voyager camera here
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