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The Natural History of Whale Sharks

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What is the largest fish in the world? The answer would be the Rhincodon typus, or commonly known as, the whale shark. The whale shark is vey unique because unlike normal sharks, the whale shark is a filter feeder and so, does not have use of its teeth. The whale shark is also about the size of a bus. However, like many animals in the world today, they are considered vulnerable according to the IUCN. They are seen often in the tropical areas, but many behavior and movement mechanism of the whale shark are still unknown.

Physical description:

The morphology of whale sharks is mostly similar to aquatic fish species, but many specific traits help differentiate them from the rest. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and can reach a size of around 20 meters (Martins, C., and C. Knickle). This is often compared to the size of a school bus. The shark has a very large transverse mouth. They have 5 very large gill slits and have a larger first dorsal fin compared to the second one (Whale Shark). They have a distinctive spotted “checkerboard” pattern with stripes (Martins, C., and C. Knickle). It is not exactly known why they have this specific body marking. It is believed that the body markings act as a camouflage. The strange thing about whale sharks is that they have 300 rows of teeth that play no role in feeding (Martins, C., and C. Knickle).

Systematics and paleontology:

Whale sharks were named Rhincodon typus by Andrew Smith, in 1828. The naming was hard due to the similarities between the family Ginglymostomatidae and the family Orectolobiformes. The closest relatives to the whale shark are nurse and zebra sharks. The whale shark is the only species in their family, Rhincondontidae. Whale sharks...

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Norman, B. (2005) Rhincodon typus. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/summary/19488/0.

Riley, M. J., A. Harman., and R. G. Rees. 2009. Evidence of continued hunting of whale sharks Rhincodon typus in the Maldives. Environ. Biol. Fish. 86:371-374. (DOI:10.1007/s10641-009-9541-0).

Rowat, D., and K. S. Brooks. 2012. A review of the biology, fisheries and conservation of the whale shark Rhincodon typus. Jour. Of. Fish. Bio. 80:1019-1056. (DOI:10.1111/j.1095-8649.2012.03252.x).

Stewart, B. S., and S. G. Wilson. 2005. Threatened fishes of the world: Rhincodon typus (Smith 1828) (Rhincodontidae). Environ. Bio Of. Fishes. 74:184-185. (DOI:10.1007/s10641-005-2229-1).

Whale Shark. Whale Shark Fact File. Retrieved March 9, 2014, from http://www.arkive.org/whale-shark/rhincodon-typus/.
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