Whale Shark vs Basking Shark: Who Wins And Comparative Analysis

When it comes to sharks, two species are considered to be the largest- whale sharks and basking sharks. While whale sharks are indeed the world’s largest fish, basking sharks come in second.

There are several things that whale sharks and basking sharks have in common. Both these sharks are massive, filter feeders, and docile. But if delved deep, it would be found that there are quite a few factors that create differentiation between these two shark species. Factors like their size, weight, habitat, etc. make them different from each other to a certain degree.

This article has been dedicated to conducting a comparative study between whale sharks and basking sharks to analyze who will win over the other. It is worth mentioning here that although belonging to the shark family, both these goliaths are pretty gentle. 

Whale Shark vs Basking Shark
Image Credit: Basking shark from Pxhere

Are Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks the same?

Both whale sharks and basking sharks belong to the shark species. They’re sharks, too, even if they don’t look like the ones we’re more acquainted with.

The two types of sharks, whale sharks and basking sharks, are not quite the same. Although one can indeed find more similarities than differences in these two shark species, these fish differ from each other. They both have some distinguishing characteristics. 

Despite the fact that these sharks are all distinct, they share several characteristics. Below are those factors:

  • Filter feeding
  • Huge size
  • Docile temperament
  • Slow swimming speed
  • Not likely to be dangerous to humans 

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Basic Information

Comparing ParametersWhale SharkBasking Shark
Scientific nameRhincodon typusCetorhinus maximus
DistributionWarm waters Worldwide in temperate latitudes
Weight21.5 tons or 43000 lbs10,000 lbs
LengthUp to 59 feet Up to 30 feet
Swim speed3 mph2.5- 4 mph
DietFilter feedersFilter feeders
Bite forceThey do not bite or chewThey do not bite or chew
Danger to humansNot likelyNot likely
Lifespan88- 100 yearsUp to 50 years

Why Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks are so big?

We all know that whale sharks and basking sharks are humongous. They tear up the rule book in the context of usual sharks’ appearance. But why are they so big?

To be very specific, we can point to two things as the reasons for these sharks’ enormous growth.

  • Diet/ Eating Habit:

Both whale sharks and basking sharks are not core herbivorous, they eat phytoplankton. Align with these, they also feed on zooplankton, small fishes, coral spawn, etc. Both these sharks feed on prey/ food that is available in abundance. 

These sharks open their mouths and enable water to flow freely through them while they swim. The filter-pads filter saltwater and keep microscopic food particles on their surface. It’s mind-boggling to consider that both these sharks can consume scores of tons of food each day.

Also, these sharks swim at a slower rate, using only one-third of their total energy. Hence, they grow huge!

  • Lack of Predators:

Whale sharks and basking sharks have essentially no natural predators, which should be noted. When these fish reach adolescence, they have grown to such a size that no large predators would choose to harm them. Nonetheless, humans are the only genuine threat to these two species. However, most of these fish die due to boat or vessel hits.

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Which One is Bigger?

Image Credit: Basking Shark Scale Chart by Steveoc 86 (CC BY-SA 4.0) from Wikimedia

It’s not easy to compare these two. When it comes to size comparisons, though, we can see the discrepancies. Let’s have a look at the size disparities between these two gigantic sharks.

With a length of up to 59 feet, the whale shark takes first place in this category. Whale sharks are the largest fish on the planet. Basking sharks, on the contrary, can grow to be as large as 30 feet long, making their way to being the world’s second-largest fish.

Both of these sharks appear exceedingly frightening because of their size as if they can devour smaller prey (even humans) in a matter of seconds. However, don’t be fooled by their size; these sharks are the gentlest of all sharks and are harmless.

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Which One is faster?

Swimming speed is essential for hunting or running away from predators. Sharks, in general, have a pretty good swimming speed. But can we state the same for whale and basking sharks?

Both whale and basking sharks have relatively slower swimming speeds. But when compared, basking sharks can swim at a maximum speed of 4- 4.5 mph, while whale sharks can have a speed of 3 mph. Hence, it is basking sharks that win the race of swim speed. 

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Diet

Most sharks are carnivorous and remain at the top of the food chain. But things are not usual for whale and basking sharks. Let’s delve deep to explore more. 

Both whale sharks and basking sharks feed on suspended plankton by drawing in seawater through their mouth. These are not typically herbivorous sharks, but eat both zooplankton as well as small fish, and invertebrates. These sharks swim while keeping their mouth open, which leads gallons of water to enter its mouth and filter the smaller food.

Hence, in the context of diet, there are no such differences or competition between whale sharks and basking sharks. Both are at an equal level. 

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Teeth and Bite Force

Sharks and sharp teeth usually go hand in hand. Their teeth are what allow them to rip into the skin of their prey. However, not all sharks use their teeth to devour food.

The teeth of both whale sharks and basking sharks are small. Whale sharks have 300 rows of small teeth in each jaw, but they don’t use any of them. Basking sharks, however, have roughly 1,500 small, curved teeth. However, when they draw in water for filtered food, none of these sharks use their teeth. As a result, these sharks do not have any biting force.

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Habitat

Whale sharks and basking sharks have different ecosystems and distributions.

Whale sharks are most commonly found in tropical waters. On the other contrary, basking sharks can mostly be adapted to a wide range of temperate settings across the world. These sharks can travel great distances in pursuit of the best phytoplankton availability. Hence, they are found in almost every ocean.

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Behavior

Usually, we associate sharks with aggression. However, this is not true for each and every single shark we encounter

Both whale sharks and basking sharks are docile in temperament. They do not display aggressive behavior towards humans. In fact, whale sharks are amiable enough to let swimmers swim with them and sometimes even ride on them. 

These giants are gentle, much contrary to their humongous size. 

Whale Sharks vs. Basking Sharks: Lifespan

Sharks are ancient creatures with a long life expectancy. On average, they can live up to 50 years. Whale sharks and basking sharks, on the other hand, have distinct characteristics in this context.

Whale sharks have an average lifespan of 88- 100 years, while a basking shark can live up to 150 years.

It is their long lifespan that shows that these two sharks lack natural predators and dislike involving in fights. 

Will a Whale Shark and a Basking Shark involve in a fight?

Sharks fighting their own kind is not an uncommon thing. However, not all of these fish prefer to indulge in fights with their own kinds, or with predators.

Both these sharks are non-aggressive, and it is unlikely that these sharks will indulge in a fight. Whale sharks and basking sharks feed on planktons and smaller marine creatures. So, they are docile fishes that are happy to live peacefully. 


When we think of “shark,” we usually think of an apex predator viciously running after prey. However, sharks aren’t all nasty predators. Whale sharks and basking sharks are good examples of this reality. These gentle giants prefer to be on their own without bothering their surroundings. They share a lot of common things along with some differences. We attempted to highlight all the similarities and differences in this post. We hope you have gained a better understanding of both the sharks. That being said, announcing who wins over the other is not so simple. Yet, when certain parameters like size and weight are considered, whale sharks will have the upper hand over basking sharks.


I am Atrayee, I have extreme passion for the Animal Kingdom and I have written a large number of articles for animal behaviors. I am an Animal Lover by nature and own two Cats.
Exploring new things through learning and unlearning is something that intrigues me a lot. I spend my free time with my husband and two cats. I must say I get to learn a lot of wise things from them! You can catch me on LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/atrayee-samaddar-06886567/

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