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The Gentle Giants of Baa Atoll By Kate Wilson MSc.

The whale shark:

Rhincodon typus

The whale shark is a massive filter feeding shark...

It spends a lot of its time feeding on microscopic plankton at the surface of the ocean...

It is the largest living fish in the world, growing up to a massive 20m in length...

Age estimates for whale sharks are as high as 60 years, but no one really knows how long this species lives, some estimate they may live for more than a century...



Carpet sharks

Whale shark colouration

The checkerboard pattern could be a result of its evolutionary relationship with carpet sharks that have bold patterns for camouflage, such as this Leopard shark.

These pigment patterns could also be an adaptation to protect against the suns harmful ultraviolet rays...



Unlike most plankton feeding vertebrates, the whale shark does not depend on movement to operate its filtration mechanism...

Rather they actively opens their mouth, distend their jaws and actively suck in water...

This sucking mechanism enables the whale shark to capture larger and more active prey as well as zooplankton aggregations.

The whaleshark then closes its closes its mouth and the water flows out the gills.

Whale sharks are also seen diving down and moving up in the water column

It appears that these movements are also associated with feeding.

The whale shark ‘cough’

Danger to humans


15 inches

Finally in 1995, the answer was found... •


Male Female


Baa Atoll Utila

Feeding grounds

Time and time again, researchers see whale sharks with amputations and lacerations associated with small boat strikes.

Boat strikes and flocks of tourists are not the only threat to whale sharks.



Whale shark hunting for meat however, is not the main problem...

Findings so far...


So how do we know whale sharks undertake these large scale migrations?

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Program



So how many are in Maldives?

Growth rates

How you can help? • Any whale shark photos of the area behind the gills, please note the time, date and area you saw the shark. We can then send the photos off to the research team. • Ask your tour operator for a briefing on the encounter guidelines • Don’t buy shark products, instead buy local handicrafts • Get actively involved in one of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Project’s expeditions

Whale sharks I  

For Maldives expedition

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