Swimming With the Whale Sharks
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world’s largest living fish, growing up to 18m in length. These placid plankton feeders have a distinct pattern of white spots and stripes covering their huge bodies that are unique to each individual. Whale sharks have a possible life span of more than 100 years as they cruise the oceans of the world.
It is only in the last 150 years or so that accurate sightings of this huge fish have been recorded in various places around the world. Being a fish and not a mammal like whales and dolphins, the whale shark breathes through gills. Even though it is often found swimming just below the surface, it is capable of diving down to enormous depths as well.
Regular sightings of this gentle giant have been recorded in Australia since the 1980s, especially in the Ningaloo Marine Park off the North West Cape, Western Australia, where their regular annual visits have led to an exciting eco-tourism industry at Exmouth , Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef Region.
Whale sharks have been tracked by satellite in various oceans of the world – in waters off the US coast and in the South China Sea. They can travel thousands of kilometres on their migrations – in some cases it takes them years to complete.
Unfortunately, when the whale sharks leave the protection of the Australian waters they become susceptible to ‘unsustainable hunting pressure’
One of the aims of the Ningaloo Whaleshark Festival is to make the public aware of the very real threat of extinction of the whale shark and the need of further research and conservation in order to preserve this endangered species.
We still have much to learn about these unique and enigmatic fish before we can fully understand the global situation or gain collaborative international protection to ensure that whale sharks will be around in the future.