Are Whale Sharks Sharks: Why, How And Detailed Facts


Whale sharks are one of the largest animals found in the aquatic ecosystem. Let us together figure out more about them. 

As some of you might already know, whale sharks are essentially sharks but are characterized as extant fish species. They are non-mammalian vertebrates and carry the scientific name of Rhincodon typus. Needless to say, people often get confused as to whether these creatures are whales or sharks given their name.

Image Credits: “Male whale shark – Georgia Aquarium” by Trodel is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

People have a lot of questions regarding whale sharks. Let us take you through some of the commonly asked questions and elaborate on some unknown facts.

Are whale sharks sharks or whales?

Image Credits: “whale shark diagonal” by istolethetv is marked with CC BY 2.0.

The first and foremost question people ask is whether whale sharks are sharks or whales. Let us tell you more about it.

Despite their confusing name, whale sharks are essentially sharks and not whales. That being said, they do share some similarities with whales which justifies their unique name. As we have mentioned earlier, whale sharks are an extant fish species, but they are huge like whales and also have similar feeding habits.

An interesting fact about whale sharks is that they are the largest fish alive today and need large quantities of food for sustenance. 

Are whale sharks shark or fish?

A common question that has been the point of much debate is whether whale sharks are sharks or fish. Let us find out more in this regard.

Whale sharks are whales but belong to the school of extant fish species. As some of you might already know, sharks are often characterized as fishes. There is a scientific reason behind this. Like fishes, sharks live in water and breathe through the help of gills. However, sharks have bodies made of cartilage instead of bones like fishes do.

Whale sharks are a shark breed, but since all sharks are essentially fishes, they are treated as no exception. 

Why are whale sharks considered fishes?

You might wonder why whale sharks are often considered fishes. Allow us to tell you more about this.

Whale sharks are considered fishes for multiple reasons. One, they are cold-blooded like most fishes and breathe through their gills. Moreover, they are not mammals like whales are but are categorized as fishes (or sharks) by scientific definition. Therefore, despite their large size and whale-like feeding habits, whale sharks are considered to be fishes.

Why are whale sharks not considered whales?

Image Credits: “Whale Watching Hervey Bay Australia by eGuide” by eGuide Travel is marked with CC BY 2.0.

We have listed several similarities between whale sharks and whales. But, do you know why they are not considered whales? Let’s find out.

Whale sharks are not considered whales because they breathe through their gills as fishes do instead of their lungs like mammals (including whales) do. Besides, the skeleton of whale sharks is made of cartilage, unlike whales who have real bones made of calcium. Another difference is that whales have a different appearance, with a distinct tail.

Despite their numerous similarities, it is worth noting that whale sharks have nothing to do with whales. They are two different species belonging to two different families. 

Are whale sharks bigger than great white sharks?

Image credits: “Great White Shark in South Africa” by travelbagltd is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Whale sharks and great white sharks are two of the biggest shark species. Let us figure out if whale sharks are bigger.

Yes, whale sharks are larger than great white sharks. In fact, whale sharks can grow up to 60 feet or 18 meters, whereas great white sharks can only grow up to 13 to 16 feet only. As such, they are much smaller. We must also mention here that whale sharks are among the largest known fish species, along with megalodons. 

Needless to say, all whale sharks are not of the same height. Some are no bigger than the size of a palm, while others are gigantic. 

Why are whale sharks considered sharks?

You might be curious to know why whale sharks are considered sharks if they are essentially fishes. Allow us to tell you more in this regard.

Whale sharks are not whales in actuality. These are shark species that have certain similarities with whales which is why they are called “whale sharks.” For instance, they are much bigger (60 feet tall) than most average shark species. In addition, their feeding habits are similar to whales, and they are filter feeders like baleen whales.

Therefore, the whale-like size of whale sharks, along with their unique diet requirements, justifies their name. 

Why are whale sharks important?

Whale sharks are an important part of the marine environment. Let’s find out why.

Whale sharks are important because they help maintain balance in the aquatic ecosystem and feed on large quantities of plankton, thereby regulating the plankton levels in the ocean. As such, these organisms cannot grow unhindered, and the ocean water remains healthy throughout the year. 

Overgrowth of plankton leads to algae bloom which is detrimental to life in the ocean.

Are whale sharks dangerous?

Whales and sharks might be two of the most dangerous ocean creatures. But are whale sharks dangerous? Let us find out.

Whale sharks pose little to no danger to humans. This is because they are filter feeders who prefer munching on plankton. As such, they show no signs of unprovoked aggression, especially towards humans. Over the years, there have hardly been any recorded instances of whale sharks attacking humans.

Conclusion

Whale sharks form an integral part of the marine ecosystem and help maintain balance in the ocean. Therefore, they are an indispensable part of the aquatic ecosystem. Like several other shark species, they often fall prey to commercial activities such as finning and overfishing. As such, it has become imperative for government bodies to take adequate measures to protect this species as well as other marine species.

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