Whale sharks are large, slow moving filter-feeders that are the largest known living fish in the ocean (as it is not a whale). These docile behemoths prefer warmer waters, and are often located at the surface of the water in areas around the equator. Whale sharks are caught and butchered in China and other Asian countries, served as a delicacy .
The whale shark are large and have a flat head and mouth, which, when open, can be over 1.5 meters wide. They usually have five large gills, and are covered in pale yellow spots and stripes. They are usually gray with a white underbelly, and their spiracles are just beneath their eyes. Their mouth are filled with hundreds upon hundreds of mostly useless, tiny teeth.
Unlike most Orectolobiformes, which are usually benthic, the Whale Shark is a pelagic species. They are usually found around the equator, preferring waters of around 21-30º C, as they are usually brimming with plankton and other small organisms, which the whale shark feeds on. They are usually found near the water’s surface, and commonly come inshore to places such as lagoons. They can swim up to New York even, and are in all tropical and temperate seas excluding the Mediterranean. They appear around almost all Chinese shores.
Rhincodon typus are filter-feeders, bringing in large quantities of water and filtering the water out though their gills. They usually feed on a wide variety of planktonic and nektonic organisms, phytoplankton, microalgae, and other creatures such as small squids. Not only that, but they also eat eggs of other fish. Because of their feeding habits, they are relatively harmless, except for accidentally getting hit by their giant tails.
Whale Sharks are usually quite harmless to people, as they have no interest in eating large bioforms. In fact, they are friendly to indifferent about divers, so it makes them easier to film, as shown the the movie to the right. But since there are solitary, they do not travel in any groups, much like the blue whale, and are very hard to locate for scientific purposes.
Conserving Whale Sharks
The Whale Shark is considered Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List, along with Polar Bears, Great White Sharks, Red Panda, Cheetah, and the Spanish Imperial Eagle. They are targeted by Asian fishers during seasons, and Whale Shark Fins are often imported and sold in Hong Kong. In Taiwan, 100 whale sharks are taken annually.
Relation to the Chinese
They are served as a delicacy, their fins sold at a high price. An 8.5 ton 8.5 meter long whale shark, after being butchered, was sold for 85,000 yuan. That's $11,300!
Even though China fishes whale shark and serves it for dinner, they have begun to take action to protect the gentle giants. Asian mega-cities such as Taiwan and Hong Kong have begun to take measures to ensure that the whale shark will still be around to see in years to come.
Wikipedia - Whale Shark
ZOOM SHARKS: Whale Shark
Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Deparment : Whale Shark