The whale shark (Rhincodon typus
) is as elusive as it is huge. In fact, it’s the largest shark in the world, growing up to 60 feet long and weighing as much as 75,000 pounds. Whale sharks spend their lives migrating across oceans, usually returning each year to the same set of sites. These areas are popular among people wanting to dive or snorkel with this shark, making it a prime target species for the marine tourism sector.
Unfortunately, whale sharks are also a prime target for traders. As with many sharks, their fins are highly prized for soup and fetch high market prices. Estimates of sharks killed for their fins range from 26 to as much as 73 million each year. Other body parts are eaten or used for traditional medicines.
Unsustainable fishing has put 20 percent of shark species and their nearest relatives at risk of extinction. The whale shark’s habit of cruising slowly at the surface make it easy prey for harpoon fishermen. Because it is slow to mature and reproduce, the whale shark has difficulty recovering from these losses and has become a rarity in many areas where it was once common.
Our marine program and partners currently work in a number of high-priority seascapes where threatened marine species, such as the whale shark, survive. The Bird’s Head Seascape
in Indonesia may be one of the biologically richest marine areas on Earth. With partners, we are also tagging and tracking sharks in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape to better understand the wanderings of these mysterious creatures. International collaboration and comprehensive marine conservation efforts across borders are necessary, because sharks often pass through waters of several countries and the “high seas” during their lives. Stop the Clock on Species Extinction