August 30 – International Whale Shark Day

Posted August 30, 2013

What's the world's largest living fish?
What fish grows to be from 40 to 50 feet long?
What fish has a mouth about 4 to 5 feet wide but feeds on some of the teeniest creatures around?

I'm sure you've guessed that the answer to all these questions is the whale shark, a gentle, plankton-eating shark.

Whale sharks are a kind of shark. They are NOT a kind of whale, but their size is similar to the size of some whales, and their feeding habits are similar to those of baleen whales, who also eat tiny plankton. Although whale sharks have a lot of teeth (around 3,000, in fact!), their teeth are tiny and of little use. Instead of using teeth to bite food, whale sharks use gill rakers to filter food from huge mouthfuls of ocean water; this is similar to whales using baleen to filter their food.

Whale sharks swim in all tropical and warm-temperate oceans, so there are many names for them in various languages. In Latin America, they are commonly called “domino,” because of the spots on their backs, but in Madagascar and Java their names translate to “many stars” and “stars on the back.” Kenyans call the whale shark “papa shillingi,” which refers to a story of a god tossing coins called shillings onto the creatures' backs, giving them their spots.

Because whale sharks migrate every year to the shores of the Mexican state Quintana Roo, on the Yucatan peninsula, a reserve has been established there to protect these huge creatures. Several Asian countries, including the Philippines, Taiwan, and India, have banned killing whale sharks, although enforcement of these laws is difficult. 

Divers love to spot these peaceful creatures—so maybe tourism can help motivate people to protect whale sharks.

By the way...

This chart compares the size of:
a human in blue,
a great white shark in green,
a whale shark in purple,
and estimates of the size of
megalodon in red and gray.
I have said that the whale shark is the world's largest living fish. But megalodon, a prehistoric shark, was even larger—up to 59 feet (18 m) long! And megalodon wasn't a filter feeder with teeny teeth! It was a lot like a much larger version of a great white shark, with huge jaws and enormous teeth! Yi-ikes!

Take a peek at just one megalodon tooth, below. How'd you like to meet up with jaws full of these teeth?

A blue whale is not a fish (it's a mammal), but a size comparison shows that this largest of all living creatures is between 80 to 100 feet (around 30 m), with the very largest measuring 110 feet (33.5 m). Did you know that today's blue whale is the largest animal EVER to have lived, that we know of? None of the dinosaurs or dinosaur-era ocean creatures (at least, that we have fossils of) were larger.

Also on this date:

National Toasted Marshmallow Day 

Plan ahead:

Here are my Pinterest pages on August holidayshistorical anniversaries in August, and August birthdays.

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