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5 Things You Should Know About Whale  Sharks

Whale shark season is in full swing here on Mafia Island, and I’ve loved learning about them during my time here. Here’s five facts that I think everyone should know about whale sharks!

1. They are enigmatic creatures, and for an animal that is so big, we actually know very little about them. However, here on Mafia is one of the only places that we know that whale sharks reside in all year round. If you visit during October to March, your chances of swimming with these incredible beasts is high, as they come to the surface to feed.

2. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. They can weigh up to 20 tonnes, which is the same as 13 hippos, 20 giraffes, or two London double-decker buses. Now, that’s one big fish!

3. You can identify each individual whale shark by their pattern on their back. The spots that decorate their back are like fingerprints, and each whale shark has a unique pattern. We can then use this identification to track and monitor individual whale sharks’ migratory and behaviour patterns.

4. Whale shark’s skin can be up to 20cm thick and is covered in tiny teeth called denticles. These help reduce drag and turbulence, allowing the animal to swim faster, more quietly, and with less effort. These denticles also protect against predators, as they act like a natural chainmail. Pretty neat!

5. Their mouths are massive, reaching a width of one metre. Let’s give it some perspective, this is big enough to park a small car inside! For an animal with such a large mouth, you’ll be surprised to learn that they can’t swallow anything bigger than the size of an avocado! They are filter feeders and their diet is made up entirely of plankton, with a 6m shark (which is still juvenile) estimated to eat 21kg of plankton a day.

By Sammy Koepfer - Tanzania Whale Shark and Sea Turtle Volunteer

Frontier runs conservationdevelopmentteaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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