We had an epic encounter with a wild whale shark in Sipadan's Barracuda Point and Hanging Garden on the 25th of February 2015! It turns out that he was just as curious as us and swam very close to our divers and snorkelers moving slowly at a very shallow depth of five to ten meters. We all had an unforgettable memory with countless selfies with this gentle giant.
The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is a slow-moving pelagic filter feeding shark and the largest known extant fish species. An average adult whale shark is 10 meters in length and weighs 20 metric tonne but much larger ones have been reported; with lengths of 14 meters and a weight of at least 30 mt. The whale shark holds many records for sheer size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate.
The whale shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea, with a lifespan of about 70 years. Whale sharks have very large mouths and as filter feeders, they feed mainly on plankton. The whale shark also feeds on school of small fish and the eggs and sperm of mass spawning fish shoals.
Despite its size, the whale shark does not pose significant danger to humans. Whale sharks are docile fish and sometimes allow swimmers to catch a ride, although this practice is discouraged by shark scientists and conservationists because of the disturbance to the sharks. Younger whale sharks are gentle and can play with divers.
The whale shark shark is seen by divers in many places. Besides whale shark sightings in Sipadan, they are also seen in the Bay Island in Honduras, Thailand, Oslob and Donsol in the Philippines, the Maldives, the Red Sea, Western Australia (Ningaloo Reef, Christmas Island), Taiwan, Japan, Panama (Coiba Island), Belize, Tofo Beach in Mozambique, Sodwana Bay (Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park) in South Africa, the Galapagos Islands, Isla Mujeres in Mexico, the Seychelles, islands off eastern peninsular Malaysia, Layang Layang in Malaysia, islands off Semporna in Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Oman and Puerto Rico.
The whale shark is classified as a vulnerable species and due to irresponsible human actions like sea pollution, shark finning and illegal fishing, the population of whale sharks have dwindled significantly over the past years. The whale shark is protected by law of various countries around the world but they are continued to be hunted in remote parts of Asia as a source of food and souvenirs. We can play our part in helping to protect and preserve the whale shark population by participating in shark awareness and conservation programs, by refusing to purchase whale shark products and by diving and fishing responsibly.
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