Rhincodon typus   Smith, 1828

Whale shark
Catalog of Fishes (gen., sp.) | ITIS | CoL
Classification
Elasmobranchii | Orectolobiformes | Rhincodontidae
Synonyms
Common names
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Main reference
Size / Weight / Age
Max length : 2,000 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 48722); common length : 1,000 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 12757); max. published weight: 34,000.0 kg (Ref. 48722); max. reported age: 70 years (Ref. 72468)
Length at first maturity
Lm 0.5, range 300 - 945 cm
Environment
Pelagic-oceanic; oceanodromous (Ref. 51243); marine; depth range 0 - 700 m (Ref. 43278), usually 0 - 70 m (Ref. 43278)
Climate / Range
Subtropical; 18°C - 30°C (Ref. 35465); 41°N - 42°S, 180°W - 180°E
Distribution
Circumglobal in tropical and warm temperate seas. Western Atlantic: New York, USA through the Caribbean to central Brazil. Eastern Atlantic: Senegal to Gulf of Guinea; St. Paul's Rocks (Ref. 13121). Indian Ocean: throughout the region, including the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Western Pacific: Japan to Australia and Hawaii. Eastern Pacific: California, USA to Chile. Identified as one of the species with an unfavorable conservation status in Appendix II of the Bonn Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in 1999. Classified as a highly migratory species, in Annex I of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which called for 'coordinated management and assessment to better understand cumulative impacts of fishing effort on the status of the shared populations' of these sharks (Ref. 26139). Included in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) since May 2003 which regulates international trade of this species. This can partially implement the original objective of the FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks). However, international trade still exists.
Countries | FAO areas | Ecosystems | Occurrences | Introductions
Short description
Dorsal spines (total): 0; Anal spines: 0. A huge, blunt-headed shark with a terminal mouth and a prominent checkerboard pattern of light spots, horizontal and vertical stripes on a dark background (Ref. 247, 5578). Caudal fin crescentic, with a strong lower lobe but no subterminal notch (Ref. 13575). It has small, scale-like teeth and feeds by filtering plankton with special sieve-like modifications of the gill bars (Ref. 26938).
Biology
    Glossary (e.g. epibenthic)
World's largest fish, which is harmless to humans (Ref. 6871). Specimens rarely above 12 m. Often seen offshore but coming close inshore, sometimes entering lagoons or coral atolls (Ref. 247). Sometimes seen cruising near outer wall (Ref. 26938). Reported to frequent shallow water areas near estuaries and river mouths, sometimes during seasonal shrimp blooms (Ref. 48696). Found singly, or in aggregations of over 100 individuals (Ref. 5578). Often associated with groups of pelagic fishes, especially scombrids (Ref. 247). Highly migratory between ocean basins and national jurisdictions, but returns to the same sites annually (Ref. 48672). Based on tagging and DNA studies, males tend to do long-distance migrations while females migrate only short distances always going back to their original place of birth (Ref. 48696). Feed on planktonic and nektonic prey, such as small fishes (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, juvenile tunas and albacore), small crustaceans and squids (Ref. 247). Often seen in a vertical position with the head at or near the surface when feeding (Ref. 13571). When actively feeding on zooplankton the sharks turn their heads from side to side, with part of the head lifted out of the water, and the mouth opened and closed 7-28 times per minute; these suction gulps were synchronized with the opening and closing of the gill slits (Ref. 35680). Ovoviviparous, litter size is over 300 pups (Ref. 37816, 43278). Females of 438 to 562 cm are immature (FIGIS 09/2003). Utilized fresh, frozen, dried and salted for human consumption, liver processed for oil, fins used for shark-fin soup, offal probably for fishmeal (Ref. 13571), cartilage for health supplements and skin for leather products (Ref. 48723). Used in Chinese medicine (Ref. 12166). Highly valued commodity in ecotourism operations. Populations have been depleted in several countries by harpoon fisheries (Ref. 48696).
IUCN Red List Status (Ref. 57073)
Threat to humans
  Vulnerable (VU) (A1bd+2d)
  Harmless (Ref. 6871)
Human uses
Fisheries: commercial
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Estimation of some characteristics with mathematical models
Phylogenetic diversity index (Ref. 82805)
PD50 = 1.5000
Trophic Level (Ref.)
3.55 s.e. 0.49 Based on diet studies.
Resilience (Ref. 69278)
Very Low, minimum population doubling time more than 14 years (K=0.02; Fec=16-300)
Vulnerability (Ref. 59153)
Price category (Ref. 80766)
Very high vulnerability (81 of 100)





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