Do whale sharks attack humans?

Do whale sharks attack humans? No, whale sharks do not attack humans. Whale sharks are actually one of the most gentle and benign open water creatures, allowing for people to closely approach and touch them and sometimes even ride on their backs without reacting aggressively or initiating any attacks towards them. 

Whale Sharks: The Gentle Giants

Whale sharks are easily one of the largest specimens of the animal kingdom that currently inhabit the world oceans.

Mature males and females, gentle as they are, can reach maximum bodylengths of 21 meters, although most specimens found in the wild rarely exceed the 12 meters mark, and can weigh a staggering 34 tons (or 31,000 kg). Simply put, they can weigh up to 68,000 lb or nearly the equivalent of 500 adult humans.

At this size, whale sharks proudly boast the titles for being: the largest living species of fish in the world, the largest living species of shark in the world, and the largest non-mammalian vertebrate that currently roams the surface of the earth. 

Despite this impressive enormity in body length and weight however, whale sharks are surprisingly one of the most gentle and benign dwellers of the tropical oceans and this may be partly thanks to their unconventional choice of forage.

Whale sharks feed primarily on some of the tiniest organisms of the oceans called planktons, zooplankton to be precise. Some scientists argue that the whale shark forage doesn’t only restrict to these tiny-millimeter sized organisms, but also contains phytoplankton and other small nektonic organisms found on the surface of the waters they inhabit.

Whether true or false is not something we are going to debate further here as the nature of the argument completely protrudes out of the article’s context.

The only thing you actually need to bear in mind is that whale sharks generally forage on some of the tiniest organisms found in the open waters, some are even tinier than a millimeter.

Now back to our discussions, because whale sharks feed primarily and strictly on some of the tiniest organisms of the open waters, they have naturally and instinctively developed zero to naught appetite for larger sea organisms or those that look nothing like zooplankton or nektons.

Humans look nothing like planktons and nektons, both in size and appearance and so they are absolutely and completely spared from the dinner plates of whale sharks.

If you want to learn more about how whale sharks feed on planktons, you can read our article explaining the diet of whale sharks.

Whale shark behaviour towards divers

To put it short, whale sharks are extremely cool, calm and collected towards divers swimming alongside them including those attempting to investigate them.

No intentional, reprisals or predatory attacks have been recorded anywhere in the world from eco-touristic centers or from fishermen.

Many people instead, have swum very closely with whale shark, both the small, medium and the larger ones without encountering any problems at all.

Some people have even hugged, touched and ridden their backs and bodies without the whale sharks reacting aggressively or trying desperately to ward off the humans.

Some sharks, especially the juveniles, seem to even enjoy the company of diving charters and even of the divers themselves.

In many cases where the whale sharks feel overly disturbed by the people swimming around them as they forage, they simply dive or flee away from the vicinity without showing much excitement or aggression.

Often, whale sharks approach divers out of curiosity in order to examine and investigate them, but they usually divert away after a short while and begin to forage for planktons elsewhere.

There are many reported incidents of whale sharks butting sprotfishingboats or even fishermen canoes while foraging on the surface of the ocean, possibly because they got excited by hooked fishes being played from the boats or by baits thrown out into the ocean.

But on normal situations and circumstance, whale sharks have never been recorded intentionally doing this, rather, they only approach closer to boats to inspect them momentarily, after which they divert away to continue foraging for planktons elsewhere. On the flip side however, inadvertent ramming of whale sharks by ships and boats as they swim on the surface or bask have been recorded in many places around the world.

More interesting articles


Compagno, Leonard J. V. (26 April 2002). Sharks of the World: An Annotated and Illustrated Catalogue of Shark Species Known to Date: Bullhead, Mackerel and Carpet Sharks. 2. Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). ISBN 978-92-5-104543-5.

Cite this Article (APA Format)

Bunu. (2020, June 7). Do whale sharks attack humans? Retrieved from

Leave a Comment