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The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world's largest living fish.

It is Western Australia's marine animal emblem and is protected in Australian waters under both state and federal law.

Despite their huge size, these gentle giants are harmless filter feeders that cruise the world's oceans looking for plankton.

Ningaloo Marine Park is one of only a few places in the world where whale sharks appear regularly in near-shore waters in numbers, where they are easily accessible to observers

Whale shark

Whale shark
Photo © Parks and Wildlife
  • The annual whale shark aggregation at Ningaloo is linked to an increase in productivity of the region.
  • The whale sharks swim and feed in Ningaloo waters from March to July before disappearing from the area for another year.
  • Some years they remain in the area into August and even September

Whale sharks reach up to 18 metres long, but at Ningaloo Marine Park they are generally between two and 12 metres in length.

  • A 12 metre shark weighs up to 11 tonnes and have a mouth over a metre wide.
  • They have three prominent ridges along each side of the body and a distinct pattern of white spots and stripes against a dark blue/grey background.
  • Whale sharks have a broad, flattened head, with a very large mouth nearly at the tip of the snout.
  • The eyes are small and located behind the angle of the jaw.

Threats

  • In other parts of the world, they are hunted for their meat (known as ‘tofu fish'), fins for soup, liver for oil, cartilage for health supplements, and their skin for leather. Whale shark catches have declined over recent years indicating exploitation of the animal.
  • Boat strikes while whale sharks are swimming near the surface are a significant problem in the north-west of Western Australia, especially with the increasing number of boats.
  • Pollution from land, increased boat traffic and the world-wide growth of nature-based tourism are also contributing towards habitat loss, reduced food availability and reduced health of whale shark populations.

Play your part

  • Join a Ningaloo whale shark interaction tour—part of your fees go towards whale shark conservation and research.
  • Follow the code of conduct when watching whale sharks.
  • Reduce your boat's speed in areas frequented by whale sharks, and keep watch for them, especially during the whale shark ‘season'.
  • Submit photos to the ECOCEAN photo identification library to give scientists information on population numbers and movement patterns.
  • Never discard fishing line, nets, plastic bags and other rubbish anywhere, especially into the ocean.
  • Contact local community groups or government departments involved with whale shark conservation to see how you can help.
  • Refuse to buy or eat whale shark products such as shark fin soup and whale shark meat (tofu fish) when overseas.
Kids: find out more about whale sharks at www.marineparks.wa.gov.au or watch a whale shark swimming

Management plan

pdfWhale shark management with particular reference to Ningaloo Marine Park 3.19 MB)