Elasmobranchii (sharks and rays) > Orectolobiformes
(Carpet sharks) > Rhincodontidae
Etymology: Rhincodon: Greek, rhyngchos = snout + Greek, odous = teeth (Ref. 45335).
Environment / Climate / Range
Marine; pelagic-oceanic; oceanodromous (Ref. 51243); depth range 0 - 700 m (Ref. 43278), usually 0 - 70 m (Ref. 43278). Subtropical; 18°C - 30°C (Ref. 35465); 41°N - 42°S, 180°W - 180°E
Length at first maturity / Size / Weight / Age
Maturity: Lm ?, range 440 - 560 cm
Max length : 1,600 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 48722); 2,000.0 cm TL (female); common length : 1,000 cm TL male/unsexed; (Ref. 12757); max. published weight: 34.0 t (Ref. 48722); max. reported age: 70 years (Ref. 72468)
soft rays: 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).
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.
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). 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).
Distinct pairing with embrace (Ref. 205). Ovoviviparous (Ref. 35465). Embryos feed solely on yolk (Ref. 50449). Late term embryos shed their egg case within the uterus at a size of 58 to 64 cm TL (ovovivipary). The smallest free-living species are from 55-56 cm long, the smallest of which had an umbilical scar. A pregnant female has recently been found with 300 embryos, the largest of which were 58-64 cm (Refs. 26346, 35678).
Colman, J.G., 1997. A review of the biology and ecology of the whale shark. J. Fish Biol. 51(6):1219-1234. (Ref. 26319)
IUCN Red List Status (Ref. 96402)
Estimates of some properties based on models
Phylogenetic diversity index (Ref. 82805
= 1.5000 [Uniqueness, from 0.5 = low to 2.0 = high].
Trophic Level (Ref. 69278
): 3.6 ±0.5 se; 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
): Very high vulnerability (81 of 100) .