In honor of Easter, we thought we’d talk about eggs… Well, one egg anyway. You may be surprised to learn that the animal responsible for producing the largest egg is a shark. It is the whale shark, a carpet shark and the largest known extant fish species. The animal holds the egg inside its body until it hatches. The largest whale shark egg ever recorded measured 12 inches long, 5.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches thick.
The fish are also rather large. The species was first singled out in 1828 after one was harpooned in Table Bay, South Africa. Thought to be a whale, it was 4.6 m/15 ft long. The name, of course, refers to its size, which can be as large as some species of whale. Whale sharks have very large mouths that can be 1.5 m/4.9 ft wide, containing 300 to 350 rows of tiny teeth and are filter feeders, which is found in only two other sharks, the megamouth shark and the basking shark. They feed almost exclusively on plankton and small fishes and pose no threat to humans.
This fascinating species inhabits all tropical and warm-temperate seas of the planet. It is the largest non-cetacean animal alive today. The average size of an adult whale shark is estimated at 9.8 m/32 ft, weighing nine tons. Yes, that’s about 20,000 pounds, although several specimens have been reported at more than 18 m/59 ft long. The largest verified specimen was caught on November 11, 1949, near Baba Island, in Karachi, Pakistan. It was 12.65 m/41.5 ft long, and weighed some 21.5 tons/47,000 pounds with a girth of 7 m/23 ft.
Seasonal feeding aggregations occur at several coastal sites including South Africa, Saint Helena Island in the South Atlantic Ocean; Gulf of Tadjoura in Djibouti, Gladden Spit in Belize and Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
The whale shark holds many records for size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate. It is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon and the only extant member of the family Rhincodontidae.
Rarely found in waters below 21 °C/(70 °F, whale sharks’ lifespan is thought to be about 70 years. Some estimates from data collected in the field seem to suggest they may be able to live to a remarkably old age of 130 years.
As noted above, one of the best places to encounter these gentle giants is in Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, where you have the opportunity to not only see whale sharks, but also meet them on their own terms – take a swim with them during our 14-day Wild Australia adventure.