Despite its size and conspicuous spots, the whale shark is shrouded in mystery. We know that whale sharks roam the oceans, potentially covering vast distances, feeding on plankton, small fish and fish eggs; but questions like how long they live or where they reproduce remain a riddle.
If you want to get to know the species better, look no further than that wildlife kaleidoscope, Ningaloo Reef. Set off Western Australia’ Coral Coast, Ningaloo has several claims to fame.
Australia's largest "fringing reef" (one closely linked to shore), Ningaloo is a rare thing: a whale shark hangout. Whale sharks flock to its pristine waters between April and July each year after the mass spectacular coral spawning.
Thanks to the water's clarity and the dedicated tours that run from the coastal towns of Exmouth and Coral Bay, Ningaloo is a good place to swim with them. Alongside whale sharks, swimmers may see graceful manta rays, dolphins, schools of brightly colored fish -- even the new stingray species discovered by scientists locally, which has a miniature 30-centimeter "wingspan".
The marine wonderland is just over two hours by plane from Perth or two days’ drive by car. For more information on tours and attractions in the region, visit www.westernaustralia.com.
Meanwhile, to pique your interest in the unique species, here are 10 odd facts about whale sharks.
10 Things You Didn’t Know About Whale Sharks:
1. The whale shark is the world's largest fish.
2. In a 1925 publication, Hugh M. Smith described a huge whale shark caught in a bamboo fish trap in Thailand in 1919. The shark proved too heavy to pull ashore. Smith reckoned that it was at least 17 meters long.
3. The whale shark typically grows to weigh as much as three adult elephants.
4. The species was first identified in the pre-eco movement year of 1828 after the harpooning of a 4.6-metre specimen in Table Bay, South Africa.
5. Despite its striking appearance, the whale shark is so harmless that scuba divers and underwater swimmers have clambered unmolested over its body.
6. The whale shark feeds mainly on plankton, but has a gourmet side and also consumes sardines and anchovies.
7. Like a human fingerprint, the patterns of speckles and stripes on the skin are thought unique to each individual.
8. New software can identify individual whale sharks by analyzing individual patterns of spots and stripes on the skin.
9. The whale shark is an inefficient swimmer because the whole body is used for swimming, which is unusual for fish, and contributes to an average speed of only around 5 kilometres per hour (3 mph).
10. The whale shark is called "tofu shark" in Taiwan because of the white colour, the soft texture, and its flesh's high water content.