Did you know that… ? Whale sharks
It’s about the size of a whale, but it’s not whale. Similar to a shark, but it’s not a shark. His nicknames include the “Domino Pez,” “The Lady Fish,” “The Gentle Giant” is even venerated as a God in the Vincentian religion where they refer to him as “Ca Ong” (Lord Fish).
It inhabits the warm oceans, near the tropics. They are considered pelagic fish and come down to a depth of 700 meters although they are commonly observed in coastal areas and shallow.
They usually live in solitude but they also form large groups of up to 800 individuals to feed in areas with high concentration of food, for example, on Holbox Island, north of the Yucatan Peninsula.
The whale shark has a flattened and elongated body. Huge fins help you navigate the water. Despite having a hydrodynamic body, it goes slowly moving its body from side to side, like a fish, making its speed is about 5 kms per hour. Slow enough to swim near side for a good time!
Although there have been stories and legends about sightings of 24-meter long and 43-ton whale sharks, the official record is recorded on 11 November 1947 near Pakistan measuring 12 meters in length and weighing more than 21 tons.
It is called the “Giant Giant” because despite its large size and shark form, its diet is mainly based on phytoplankton, macro algae, krill and sometimes also small crustaceans such as crabs and squid.
Although it has a few small teeth, these are not involved in the feeding process. To digest plankton and other micro foods this huge fish simply sucks hundreds of gallons of water that seep through a “gill comb” catching food there. It uses its nose to find concentrations of fish or plankton and does not need to swim to suck water but uses a pumping system, so that it can be found in vertical position moving from top to bottom to ingest its food.
The shark and the man
Whale shark is not a danger to the human being, in fact it is an important example of coexistence with the man. This animal is observed very often by divers and swimmers in Honduras, Maldives, Galapagos, Ecuador, Thailand, the Philippines, Mexico and many more places. It has become a focal point of the eco-tourism industry, helping to generate awareness and action towards the care and protection of the environment.
Here in Mexico we are fortunate to receive each year this majestic fish on both coasts of the country. On the Mexican Pacific coast they are practically all the year, where they are frequently found on the outskirts of the bay of La Paz, Baja California Sur. In the Caribbean we find them in the Island of Holbox, to the northeast of the state of Quintana Roo between the months of May and September. Can´t wait!
Their reproductive habits have not been investigated thoroughly, but they are known to be ovoviviparous animals. This means that the female keeps the eggs in her belly until they break and then the live, energy-filled offspring of the belly come out, as with most shark species. In June of 1996 a female with 300 eggs in the belly was registered. The largest number of offspring ever recorded in a Whale Shark!
When the Shark is born it is between 40 and 60 centimeters in length. Although little is known about the growth rate, they are believed to reach sexual maturity at 30 years, with about 9 meters and that they live up to 100 years!
State of conservation
Very little is known of its population, reason why it is considered by the IUCN like a species in danger of extinction. All fishing, selling, importing and exporting for commercial purposes is prohibited and penalized. In Taiwan, this law has been applied since 2007, where approximately 100 copies were killed annually.
The Whale Shark is a sacred animal and we are hardly realizing it as a society. It is important to promote the care of the same and its natural habitat through safe, controlled, recorded sighting practices and taking conscious measures and in harmony with the environment.
I invite you all to come to the Yucatan Peninsula, to the State of Quintana Roo to appreciate this Great Guardian of the Mexican Caribbean and thus to have a broader view of our role as active participants in social change for the Care of our seas.
Click the following link if you want to know more about the tour to swim with whale sharks in Mexico.
By Juan de Garay