Diet and Feeding Habits of a Whale Shark

Perhaps the most fascinating of fish species is the largest, the Whale Shark. The Whale Shark is one of only three filter feeding shark species. Found in warm and tropical open waters, this terrestrial fish is a mystery. This article will examine the diet, feeding habits, and advantages this marvellous creature has.

The Whale shark is a filter feeder, which means it sucks and filters its food like a giant vacuum. This gives the Whale Shark a tremendous advantage over other fish species because instead of relying on energy draining motion, it can use a less draining and more efficient suction and filtering method. When the Whale Shark is swimming, it opens its gigantic mouth to consume massive amounts of nutrient rich water. (The Whale Shark can take in 1500 gallons of water per hour). After the water is taken in, it rushes toward five large gill rakers that contain tissue. Then, the Whale Shark uses small bristle-like structures called dermal denticles to filter the food. These structures line the gill rakers and are merely 2 millimeters in diameter. The dermal denticles are efficient because they prevent anything except water and most small food particles from passing. These structures catch the small organisms a whale shark consumes and hold them until the Whale Shark swallows. What exactly is the Whale Shark swallowing?

Even though a whale shark is the largest fish species, its diet consists mainly of smaller organisms. These organisms include plankton, krill, macro algae, and squid. The Whale Shark also consumes small fish species, such as sardines and anchovies. The Whale Shark can even consume larger fish species, like mackerel, tuna, and nektonic. Unlike most fish species, a Whale Shark can eat both small and large prey because of its highly efficient suction and filtering method. Since the Whale Shark doesn’t have to rely on motion to feed, they can be active feeders for long periods of time. While they can be active, Whale Sharks can also live for multiple days at a time without eating. This is only because they store large amounts of energy from all of the prey they consume. Whale Sharks possess many different feeding adaptations that make them a unique fish species.

While Whale Sharks have different feeding methods and diets than most species, the most unique thing about them is their feeding habits. Whale Sharks have been oddly observed coughing. This adaptation helps them to clear their filters of trapped food particles. Whale Sharks are known to feed in a vertical position, where they swim towards the water’s surface sucking in prey. Whale Sharks depend on their capable nostrils much more than their weak eyes when feeding. Located on their jaw, Whale Sharks use their nostrils to detect dense areas of plankton and krill. When a whale shark finds a dense area of prey, it often turns side to side with its mouth open in order to obtain as much prey as possible. Whale Sharks aren’t aggressive when feeding on smaller prey, but they have been observed aggressively swimming into schools of fish and other larger prey items to eat them. Whale Sharks usually hunt alone, but they sometimes hunt in groups at dawn or dusk. All of these feeding habits give the Whale Shark more of an advantage to survive.

Whale Sharks have multiple feeding adaptations that help them to better survive. Whale Sharks have a unique and efficient suction and filtering method they use to feed.  They also have a diet that consists of a wide variety of small and large prey. Whale Sharks have many unique habits they demonstrate while feeding that help them to obtain more food. Whale Sharks have many unique feeding adaptations that will help their species to survive for years to come.