Are whale sharks dangerous?

Not all that bears the shark name is ferocious and dangerous. Does this statement actually includes the largest species of sharks and fishes in the tropical waters however? They too are sharks, and the biggest for that matter? So where do they stand? Gentle or dangerous?

In this article, we discuss everything there is to know about the temperament of whale sharks. You’ll find out whether whale sharks are safe to approach during you next expenditure or a thousand plus one yard is the safest option. You’ll also find out why the temperament of whale sharks is the way it is and other species of sharks that are just like it.

Are whale sharks dangerous?

No, whale sharks aren’t dangerous at all. They are calm, cool and collected fishes even to a much farther extent than Nurse sharks, Leopard sharks, Caribbean reef sharks and Angel sharks.

Whales sharks: The Gentle Giants

Whale sharks are the largest fish species currently inhabiting the open waters of the tropical oceans. It’s no surprise that many infant divers get extremely overwhelmed (with fear) by the mere thoughts of diving alongside one for the very first time.

These giant underwater dwellers measure a whooping 12 meters (45 foot) in total body length and weigh a staggering 12 tonnes (13 tons) on average, (figures are only based on intellectual estimations and not on real life measurements, its actually very difficult to measure marine animals this big).

Their mouth can stretch a whopping 5 meters across and they are capable of swallowing upto 600 cubic meters of water every single hour.

Larger whale sharks can even surpass the 18 meter mark and weigh astoundingly more than 35 ton (32 tonnes). Thats roughly 12 times the height of the average human adult and five hundred times his average weight.

Despite this enormity, sheer bulkiness and a rather preposterous figure that stands contrary to the dimensions and magnitude of most fishes in the ocean, whale sharks are actually nothing more than gentle underwater giants.

Many people have successfully dived alongside them and sometimes even mounted onto their backs (generally not advised) without running into any problems whatsoever.

Whale sharks occupy the ‘safe’ end of the continuum that includes the ferocious great white and bull sharks at the extreme opposite, and moderately calm but alert nurse and leopard sharks in the middle.

The reason for their calmness and gentle nature revolves to a valid degree within their strange feeding strategy which contrasts greatly with that of most fishes in general.

Whales sharks, just like the baleen species of whales are opportunistic filter feeders that feed mostly on planktons and phytoplankton.

These unique animals that end are basically tiny and sometimes microscopic marine organisms that inhabit the surface of productive tropical waters during the daytime and sink deeper and deeper into the waters as twilight approaches.

Whale sharks rise to the open surface of ocean, gulp massive amounts of plankton bearing water (upto 600 cubic meters per hour), and then filter out food from water using their efficiently built filter pads and then swallow their prey alive. Whale sharks basically forage using either of three feeding styles identified below.

  1. Active surface ram filter feeding: The whale shark rises to the surface of the ocean and swims forward, ramming plankton rich water into its mouth and separating the food from water using filtering pads located within its mouth.
  2. Suction filter feeding: The whale shark rises close to the surface of the ocean (but not out) and adjusts its body nearly perpendicular to the body of water above and begins to suck in plankton bearing water directly into its mouth.
  3. Below surface ram filter feeding: Just the usual ram filter feeding as above but this time occurring below the surface of water and not on top.

Because whale sharks have evolved to feed mainly on tiny planktonic creatures and not on larger species of preys such sharks and medium sized whales, (read the reason why here, under the sub heading “The whale shark diet”), they have virtually zero to naught appetite for humans and any other creature that looks nothing like their microscopic diet.

They basically slam shut their wide mouths whenever larger preys accompany their planktonic diet or spew out whatever foreign prey they might have accidentally swallowed while foraging for their nutrient rich planktons. 

Still, What if…?

So, what if for some absurd and mysterious reasons, a whale shark decides it’s you on the menu and not planktons? What happens? Can they swallow you?

Well, the answer is a resounding and emphatic No, and here is why.

First of all, whale sharks have vestigial teeth: as you might have understood from the previous section; whale sharks are opportunistic and active filter feeders which means that they forage and sustain themselves by filtering and swallowing their prey alive, so they have absolutely no use for their somewhat 27,000 teeth arranged in more than 250 tooth rows.

Second, whale sharks have tiny oesophagus that barely stretches an inch across: a whale shark attempting to make a prey out of a human must find a way to shove down this heavy mass nearly hundreds of times bigger than the oesophagus.

That’s an awfully painful exercise, one which any individual with a sense of reasoning would label as impossible and wouldn’t even dare to attempt.

A whale shark trying to feast on a human would only be digging its early grave and creating a hugely sustainable carrion to be scavenged upon by marine scavengers.

What are other sharks that aren’t dangerous?

  1. Nurse sharks
  2. Leopard sharks
  3. Caribbean reef sharks
  4. Angel sharks

More interesting whale shark articles

Cite this Article (APA Format)

Bunu. (2020, June 3). Are whale sharks dangerous? Retrieved from

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