What you say? How could something the size of a bus, with an average length of around 10m (30′) and max lenth of 20m (60′), have an identity crisis? One problem is deep down, they know they are not a whale. They have gills and don’t breath air which means they don’t have anything as showy as a spout. Plus, their tail is sideways compared to whale so no fancy tail slaps on the water to get attention.
Well, you reply, they may not be a whale but, sharks are pretty “bad ass”. Sharks have big razor sharp teeth and are predators that rule the reef. The problem is whale sharks have tiny little teeth. Their pearly whites are only about 6mm (1/4 inch) long, your friends hamster has teeth about twice that size! They are filter feeders eating small fish and plankton.
Ok, ok, but fish are cool; they dart around and can catch other fish with their mouth! Fish are so fast, they are like the Ferraris of the sea! Right? Ya some fish, but whale sharks redline at a scorching 5kph (3mph) so when it comes to speed, they are more like your cousin tortoise. You know, the one you call like it is a bouncing puppy while waving a piece of lettuce and then wait and wait.
But really most whale sharks are so cool they probably just don’t care about all that show off stuff. Well, except the young males, who are the ones almost always spotted near the surface, close to shore and first in line at the traditional fishing platforms. But, don’t you think that kind of thing is similar like humans behaviour too? Just look at those hip college beach boy types, too cool for school. In fact, when a young whale shark sees the rare female and turns on the charm, it is called “peacocking”. I think that kind of says it all. Like the college boys who are all too ready to belly up to the nearest beach bar for the cheapest beer on offer. The whale shark young boys are the same, first at the fishing platforms to get the ceremonial offering of small fish, gulping them down like the party has just started. Man, and talk about chugging ability!!! (Actually the technical term for when whale sharks chug is called “Ram Filter Feeding”. I think we have all seen enough of those college party films that that doesn’t need any further explanation!).
The difference is that unlike the profit-oriented bar owners, the fisherman operating the fishing platforms (called “bagans”) offer up free refreshment (small fish) as a thank you to the whale sharks for helping them find the good fishing spots.
But seriously, I think it is probably only the young males that have much of an identity crisis. Whales sharks have some pretty thick skin! About 10cm (4″) to be exact, so even the most biting remark or even an actual biting shark doesn’t bother them once they hit adult size. Only about 1 in 10 of the pups reach adulthood. However, once they reach adulthood, whether it’s their chill cruiser life style and thick skinned attitude or some other factor that are not yet known, whale sharks get the silver medal of life expectancy at 120-150 years. Their cousins the Greenland shark gets the gold at an awe inspiring 400 years! In addition, they have teeth on their skin called Placoid scales!
Not only is their skin tough, but they also have teeth on their eyes!!! Ya, can you believe that? They are called dermal denticles or placoid scales. These scales/teeth form a shield around the eye. Armored eyes. Now, that’s tough!
Another cool thing about whale sharks. ……. They have the largest cells (most likely). Here’s how the thinking goes: eggs are one cell; whale sharks are ovoviviparous (eggs that are hatched in the body). They’re the largest egg-producing vertebrate whose eggs are not connected to a placenta, therefore they must be the largest egg (with a huge yolk) and thus, the largest cell.
Whale sharks also retain their eggs and give birth to pups continuously over long periods of time while retaining sperm from one mating. So hey, if there are no suitable guys around, no worries, these girls will be just fine! There was one whale shark found with about 300 pups! How is that for being prepared for the future!