All About the Whale Shark and Other Big Sharks

scuba diver swimming under a whale shark

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The whale shark holds the title of the world's biggest shark species. Growing to a length of about 65 feet (the length of about 1 1/2 school buses!) and weighing about 75,000 pounds, this streamlined fish is really a gentle giant. 

Some areas frequented by these sharks, such as Ningaloo Reef in Australia, have become popular tourist destinations because of their swim-with-sharks programs. Whale sharks live in tropical and warmer temperate waters in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

In addition to their size, these sharks can be easily recognized by their gorgeous coloration, which is formed from lighter spots and stripes over a gray, blue or brown skin. They also have very wide mouths, which they use to eat tiny prey -- primarily plankton, crustaceans, and small fish, which are filtered from the water as the shark swims.

The second-biggest shark species is the basking shark, which grows to about 40 feet long. These animals are also plankton feeders. They live primarily in temperate ocean waters throughout the world.

The Biggest Shark Filmed

In summer 2015, a video swept the news, touting it was "the biggest shark ever filmed." What many of the news reports failed to mention is the species. There are more than 400 shark species, and they range in size from the 60-foot whale shark to pygmy sharks and lantern sharks that are less than a foot long when fully grown. The "biggest shark filmed" was actually a white shark, also known as a great white shark. At average lengths of 10 to 15 feet, white sharks are generally much smaller than a whale shark or basking shark. 

So, while the 20-foot white shark nicknamed Deep Blue may (or may not) be the largest white shark ever filmed, it's by far not the largest shark ever filmed as there is plenty of video footage of much larger whale sharks and their slightly smaller relatives, the basking shark. 

The Biggest Shark Ever Caught

According to the International Game Fish Association, the largest shark ever caught was a white shark nabbed in Ceduna, Australia. This shark weighed 2,664 pounds. 

Another one of the largest white sharks caught is thought to be a 20-foot shark caught by a trawler about 12 miles off the coast of Prince Edward Island, Canada. The significance of the shark's size was underestimated at the time, and the shark was initially buried. Eventually, a scientist dug it up to investigate it and realized the enormity of the find. The shark was later estimated to have been about 20 years old, meaning it may still have had some growing to do


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Kennedy, Jennifer. "All About the Whale Shark and Other Big Sharks." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Kennedy, Jennifer. (2020, October 29). All About the Whale Shark and Other Big Sharks. Retrieved from Kennedy, Jennifer. "All About the Whale Shark and Other Big Sharks." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 21, 2023).