On August 30, the world is showing the biggest shark that lives in our oceans some big, BIG love. Because believe it or not, the biggest fish in the sea needs all the love they can get! Sure they are a shark – but they are the closest thing to a vegetarian that exists in the shark world. Filter feeders, they eat plankton. While their mouths are 4 feet wide, their throats are the size of a quarter. And before you begin to worry about their 3000+ teeth, you should probably know they are only the size of the head of a match.
It’s hard to believe given the fact they can grow up to 40 feet in length and weigh up to 20 tons, but they are very elusive and proficient in the art of underwater camouflage. In fact, Jacques Cousteau only saw three in his lifetime!
They are found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world except for the Mediterranean Sea, and can migrate thousands of miles between feeding areas. They spend most of their lives near the surface, but have been known to dive to depths of almost 2,000m.
These gentle giants are magical – with a unique dot pattern that is specific to each individual whale shark. Their populations are so low that there is a genetic similarity among all whale sharks worldwide. Whale sharks play an extremely important role keeping the oceans healthy while also creating sustainable income for local communities through tourism. However, like many other shark species, whale sharks are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, with declining populations worldwide. With massive migratory areas that make them difficult to protect, the fact they are often bycatch or targeted for their meat + fins, and as filter feeders that they often consume micro-plastics, whale sharks need all the help they can get.
Here’s everything you need to know about these incredible fish – including how to meet them, how to protect them, and how to celebrate them every day!
Whale Shark Fun Facts:
- Name: Rhincodon typus
- Size: 18- 40 feet
- Weight: up to 20 tons (equivalent to 3 African Elephants, a full school bus or 12,000+ bricks!)
- Physical features: mouths are 5 feet wide with 3,000 teeth, eyes are as big as golf balls
- Life Span: estimated 60-100 years
- IUCN Red List Status: Endangered
1) Love Tropical Waters Both Deep and Shallow
The preferred environments of whale sharks are tropical and temperate waters and all over the world, including both deep and shallow coastal waters and lagoons of coral atolls.
A marine biologist named Eric Hoffmayer recorded the deepest dive yet: in 2008, he monitored a shark in the Gulf of Mexico that descended 6,324 feet. Sharks lack a swim bladder that keeps other fish buoyant, so one idea is that whale sharks free-fall toward the seafloor to rest.
Whale sharks especially love the Philippines. In 2016, the 1000th whale shark was identified in Philippine waters, making the Philippines the third largest known aggregation of whale sharks in the world and the biggest in South East Asia.
2) Endurance Swimmers Who Are Global Travelers
Whale sharks are one of the most migratory species and can travel around 40 miles per day! They tend to prefer different geographic locations at various times of year based largely on water temperature, food supplies and breeding opportunities. Genetic studies show that whale sharks across the globe are closely related which suggests that mating is one of the reasons for such long travels.
It is believed that pregnant females will migrate long distances to be able to give birth near remote islands where baby sharks will be out of reach of common predators.
But they are also slow swimmers (for sharks) usually moving at no more than 3 mph. Their swimming pattern is different than most sharks in that instead of using just the caudal fin for primary propulsion, they use the full posterior two-thirds of their body length.
The record for whale shark migration was 12,000 miles by a whale shark named Anne in 2011. She was tracked making the mammoth migration from near Panama in the southeastern Pacific, to an area close to the Philippines in the Indo-Pacific. Other tracked whale sharks have traveled:
- Over 8,000 miles from the Gulf of CA, Mexico to Tonga
- 3,107 miles to the coast of Thailand
3) They Enjoy Alone Time
Whale sharks are usually solitary creatures but come together for months in large aggregations to feed in plankton-dense waters. After feeding, they drift off in random directions, completely disappearing during winter and spring.
4) They Practice Vegetarianism
Whale sharks can eat plankton up to 45 pounds of plankton each day (which is equivalent to 121 cheeseburgers per day). But they also eat shrimp, sardines, anchovies, mackerels, squid, tuna, and albacore. and fish eggs. According to The Nature Conservatory, whale sharks will wait as long as 14 hours for fish to spawn on reefs and then they will swoop in and eat the eggs.
But they also largely have a vegetarian diet, especially when other prey is scarce. Scientists discovered that whale sharks get more than half their nutrients from plants and algae.
5) Each Baby Whale Shark is a Miracle!
Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning they produce eggs that hatch inside the mother’s uterus. Litters can be up to 300 pups but not all pups are birthed at the same time. That is almost twice as many as any other shark species.
But only one pregnant whale shark has ever been studied and, interestingly, many of these embryos were at different stages of development. Scientists observed that some were still in their egg cases whilst others had emerged but were still in the uterus. This may signify that females are able to store a male’s sperm, selectively fertilizing their eggs over a prolonged period.
Juvenile whale sharks, as docile and vulnerable as their elders, often become prey for other sharks and orcas, so while a female may birth more than 300 pups at a time, survival rates are devastatingly low; females giving birth to multiple litters at different times could increase their survival rate which could be why they have their very own, built-in sperm banks.
Making the birth of a whale shark even more miraculous is the fact that each whale shark’s pattern is as unique as a human fingerprint!
Think You Know Whale Sharks? Click here for a fun way to test your whale shark IQ!
Header Photo: Whale shark in Oslob by Shawn Heinrichs
Reef-World Launches New Partnerships to Accelerate Sustainability in the Dive Industry
The Reef-World Foundation, DiveAssure, and ZuBlu are launching a new collaboration to champion marine conservation while promoting sustainable diving practices. The symbiotic partnerships aim to increase awareness and implementation of environmental standards in the marine tourism industry through the Green Fins initiative, spearheaded by Reef-World in partnership with the UN Environment Programme.
Businesses have a unique opportunity to create a long-lasting impact through partnerships with conservation organisations. These partnerships show how tourism can go hand in hand with sustainability when businesses join forces with conservation organisations. By working together, these organisations and companies demonstrate their dedication towards sustainability and open doors to endless opportunities for growth and success in the tourism industry that benefit the people and the planet.
As the number of divers continues to grow and make a comeback post-pandemic, studies have shown that there’s a strong demand for sustainability education from dive tourists. This resulted in the partnership between Reef-World, DiveAssure and ZuBlu to promote sustainable diving practices through one of Green Fins tools, the Green Fins Diver e-Course. The course is designed for recreational divers to build on their existing scuba diving knowledge and provide them with the skills and confidence to conduct environmentally friendly diving trips. This, in return, empowers them to use their consumer power to demand more sustainable practices.
Chloe Harvey, Executive Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to be taking this step with these two wonderful companies. This is a truly symbiotic partnership, one that furthers the business priorities of DiveAssure and ZuBlu, as well as delivering on our conservation objectives. Reef-World has a long history of working with sustainability leaders in the diving industry, and with their support, we look forward to diving into a future where sustainability is at the heart of every dive adventure.”
What the partnerships entail for divers who have completed the Green Fins Diver e-Course:
- Get 20% off worldwide diving accident and dive-travel insurance from DiveAssure.
- Get 5% off scuba diving holidays booked with ZuBlu, a dive travel agency which has over 800 carefully chosen resort and liveaboard partners across 100 dive destinations worldwide.
- Reef-World to provide 10% off on Green Fins Diver e-Course for all DiveAssure and ZuBlu customers and members.
Besides offering a discount on their diving accident and travel plans, DiveAssure proudly supports top Green Fins Members across the globe with grants to fulfil their sustainability and conservation goals. Founded in 1999, DiveAssure has a goal of not only providing scuba divers with everything they might need in terms of safety and medical assistance, they are also committed to sustainability and the protection of our ocean. They champion responsible diving, endorse marine conservation, and continuously strive to minimise environmental footprints. Every quarter, DiveAssure evaluates initiatives proposed by Green Fins members — be it beach or reef cleanups, coral propagation, or setting up marine life nurseries. Dive centres keen to collaborate on such impactful endeavours are encouraged to reach out to email@example.com for further details.
Tal Tamir, Business Development & Community Chief at DiveAssure, said: “We are thrilled about our new partnership with The Reef-World Foundation. We believe that sustainable diving is a key factor in preserving the beauty and biodiversity of our ocean. And that through education, we can raise awareness and drive positive change. The Green Fins courses empower divers and operators with knowledge about marine conservation, sustainable diving practices and the importance of protecting the ocean and its ecosystems — knowledge we encourage all our members to have. Green Fins Members are welcome to apply for funding for their blue-green initiatives, which are considered quarterly. Let’s do good together!”
With the “Explore the blue. Dive green.” tagline, ZuBlu celebrates sustainable businesses and encourages divers to be more environmentally conscious while on their adventures to contribute to a healthier ocean. Reef-World has proudly collaborated with ZuBlu since 2018, and this new partnership model represents a transformation in the impact they can have together. Their mission centres around improving the way travellers engage with the ocean. They believe every dive starts at home, and every decision made in planning a holiday can make a difference to the marine environment. With access to information on the sustainable practices implemented by their featured resort and liveaboard partners, they can ensure their customers find sustainable operators to book their ocean adventures with.
Adam Broadbent, co-founder and CEO at ZuBlu, said: “We are delighted to be deepening our collaboration with The Reef-World Foundation to further encourage more conscious divers. At ZuBlu, we want to empower our guests to be a force for good on their scuba diving adventures. And we are delighted to be rewarding Green Fins Divers with a 5% discount to acknowledge their commitment to the ocean.”
Join the movement to protect our ocean by taking the Green Fins Diver e-Course and receiving all the rewards that come from the partnerships.
The Reef-World Foundation is a registered UK charity which delivers practical solutions for marine conservation around the world. The charity promotes the wise use of natural resources – particularly coral reefs and related ecosystems – for the benefit of local communities, visitors and future generations. It is dedicated to supporting, inspiring and empowering governments, businesses, communities and individuals around the world to act in conserving and sustainably developing coastal resources.
Reef-World leads the global implementation of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative, which focuses on driving environmentally friendly scuba diving and snorkelling practices across the industry globally. As such, the charity provides low-cost and practical solutions to local and industry-wide environmental challenges associated with the marine tourism industry. It provides education and capacity-building assistance to empower environmental champions (within the diving industry, local communities, authorities and governments) to implement proven coastal resource management approaches.
About Green Fins
Green Fins is a proven conservation management approach – spearheaded by The Reef-World Foundation in partnership with the UN Environment Programme – which leads to a measurable reduction in the negative environmental impacts associated with the marine tourism industry. The initiative aims to protect and conserve coral reefs through environmentally friendly guidelines that promote a sustainable diving and snorkelling tourism industry. It provides the only internationally recognised environmental standards for the diving and snorkelling industry and has a robust assessment system to measure compliance.
Green Fins encourages and empowers members of the diving industry to act to reduce the pressures on coral reefs by offering dive and snorkel companies practical, low-cost alternatives to harmful practices – such as anchoring, fish feeding and chemical pollution – as well as providing strategic training, support and resources. By reducing the local direct and indirect pressures tourism puts on coral reefs, it helps make corals healthier and more resilient to other stresses such as the effects of climate change. Look for the Green Fins logo when booking your next dive trip.
DiveAssure goes beyond being just another member association. DiveAssure is your steadfast companion and passport to extraordinary underwater adventures. Their membership provides medical, rescue and evacuation services in case divers and travellers have an accident, become injured, sick or if their safety is threatened.
Whatever the emergency, wherever you are, DiveAssure has your back. So you can immerse yourself in the wonders of the deep, knowing their comprehensive benefits, global network, and unwavering commitment to your safety will ensure that every dive is an unforgettable and secure experience. Learn more at www.diveassure.com.
ZuBlu is the world’s leading dive travel agency for scuba diving and ocean experiences, with more than 800 partners in over 100 dive destinations around the world. Secure online booking, expert travel advisors and flexible booking terms mean you can discover, compare and book scuba diving holidays with ease. Discover and book your next diving adventure at www.zubludiving.com now.
Seahorse National Park announced on Eleuthera in The Bahamas
This week has seen the announcement of the designation of Seahorse National Park at Hatchet Bay Cave and Sweetings Pond on Eleuthera. This monumental announcement comes after years of efforts from the BNT and its partners in advocating for the protection of Sweetings Pond and its surrounding areas as an official national park under the BNT’s management.
Sweetings Pond is a large, land-locked saltwater pond in Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera. It has many unique natural features, but the most notable of them all is its incredible seahorse population, which is believed to be the densest population of seahorses in the world. The new 548-acre national park protects the entire one-mile-long pond and the surrounding terrestrial area. The land surrounding Sweetings Pond is a blend of intact coppice, mangroves, and farmlands. In addition, the new national park includes the extensive Hatchet Bay Caves system. This historic cave system is a popular attraction and contains a number of impressive geological features. It is one of the longest dry cave systems in The Bahamas.
Since 2014, the BNT has been leading efforts to have the area declared as a national park. This included years of public outreach and stakeholder consultations in communities across Eleuthera; education presentations in local schools; science and research efforts; and engaging consecutive government administrations. In 2018, the BNT submitted the “20 by 20 Marine Protection Plan” to the government, which included the recommendation to declare Sweetings Pond and other areas in The Bahamas as protected areas.
During the lease signing ceremony for Seahorse National Park, Minister Clay Sweeting, said, “This lease agreement for Sweetings Pond has been a long time coming. It represents a milestone in our journey towards sustainable development. It symbolises our collective responsibility to safeguard our natural heritage and create a harmonious relationship between economic progress and environmental preservation.
“I would like to express my gratitude to all stakeholders in this process of drafting and finalising this lease agreement. Their dedication, expertise, and commitment has been crucial in ensuring that this agreement falls in line with our vision of creating a thriving ecosystem while promoting responsible usage. Let us continue to preserve the jewel that is Sweetings Pond for many generations to come.”
The BNT invites the public to stay tuned for more news about its plan for the country’s newest national park: Seahorse National Park at Hatchet Bay Cave and Sweetings Pond!
To learn more about the role the BNT plays in managing terrestrial and marine national parks, conserving wildlife, and informing environmental policy, please visit its website: www.bnt.bs
Banner Image: A lined seahorse (Hippocampus erectus), female, clining to algae in an alkaline pond in The Bahamas by Shane Gross
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