We wonder if the humble whale shark knows he’s the pinnacle of nature-related facebook selfies. Humans get a kick out of going whale, dolphin and turtle spotting, but is it that one-sided? Who’s to say that dolphins don’t get together one morning and say, “hey, wanna swim up the East Ridge and find some human-boats to go check out? I saw a really fat/ginger/loud male the other day lean so far over the railing, it nearly fell in. It was hilarious!”
As part of our recent project for STA Travel and Tourism Western Australia, we drove up the continent’s West Coast from Perth to Broome, marvelling at the many unique and stunning features of this part of the world. You can read a full lowdown in our blog post on STA Travel’s website, but we were so blown away by two of the experiences, we couldn’t help but delve further into telling you all about it. One was Karijini National Park, and the other involved some serious getting our snorkel on.
Being in the presence of the world’s biggest fish it so jaw-droppingly amazing that you’re going to have to slam it on your bucket list instead of bungee jumping. No trips planned for the near future? Don’t fret, as the crazy facts that surround this giant blue spotted grazer are pretty damn amazing too. So get ready to have a little taster of the whale sharks awesomeness right here, right now sat staring at your laptop in dreary Clapham.
1) Whale sharks are the kings and queens of mystery
Despite being the largest fish in the ocean, they’re pretty elusive. No one knows how many exist, little is known about their social behaviour and body stats differ from post to post. Nevertheless, most agree that there is good reason to believe that sizes and weight aren’t the biggest and heaviest we’ve seen yet. As they’re pretty harmless, whale sharks tactic when faced with a threat is to dive (more than 1km deep), which is why we had to painfully constrain ourselves from free diving in WA so as to not lose the whale shark and p*ss everyone else on the boat off. If you’ve seen pics of people swimming underwater (as opposed to on the surface) with a whale shark, they were probably taken in South East Asia, which has less stringent animal protection regulations.
2) Just in case you’re confused
Whale sharks aren’t whales but sharks. You probably already knew that, but want to know a nifty way of telling why? Sharks breathe through gills, and their tail fin is upright (vertical) as they swim straight through the water, moving their bodies from side to side to keep moving. Whale sharks come to the surface for food, not air. Whales, on the other hand, are mammals evolved from land creatures and thus have a very different anatomical blueprint (for one, mammaly bones in stead of sharky cartilage). Their tail fins have evolved in the horizontal plane, which is also handy for swimming up for air and down for food, fun and other whale-related shenanigans. Ta-daaa, pub quiz won.
3) Dinner time is more epic than YouTube
To feed a body length of up to 12 metres (possibly even bigger) weighing 15000kg (that’s 15 tonnes) you’re gonna have to stuff a lot of food down your pie-hole. Whale sharks feed on plankton (very deceptive), which you also might have known already. Studies of a 6m juvenile shark off Yukatan show that he ate for about 8 hours a day, filtering 600 cubic meters of seawater per hour for 2.8kg of food, which equates to 21kg of yummy plankton goodness every day. Whale sharks are so fond of plankton, that they’ve managed to figure out exactly when and where fish and coral are spawning on a global scale, and move around the oceans accordingly. Just imagine the family food budget. Which brings us to…
4) No one’s figured out their birds and bees story yet
If you’re a young, frisky whale shark who’s got a bit of spare time on your hands/fins, you’re gonna have to start a stamp collection, cause as of yet, there isn’t any whale shark porn. Not that the species are particularly prude, but no one has managed to find out where, when and how they mate. BUT, in 1997 scientists found female sharks carrying more than 300 pups that are born live at different times. Whale sharks only reach frisky maturity in their 30s but living up to 100 years old means lots of babies to fight about Haribo in the checkout queue with.
5) If you want to find a specific whale shark on tinder…
… all you need to do is take a photo of its spots, and send it to these dudes who’ll tell you all about it. If you’ve found a brand new one they haven’t got on file yet, you can name it!
Despite the fact we only had a combined 10 minutes bobbing around the surface in small groups whilst Mr/Mrs (we couldn’t dive to find out) Whale Shark swam by indifferently, being in the presence of this magnificent and stunningly beautiful fish was incredible. There are several places worldwide that offer snorkelling tours when it’s the right season for spotting them, and we can’t recommend it enough.
Had your mind blown by being in the presence of a wild creature? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll be sure to add it to our list! And whilst you’re on the internet, check out our Western Australia Film!