We get asked this question a lot during Whale shark season here in Panama and we thought perhaps it was time to answer the top five questions that we hear before the Whale Sharks arrive again this year.
Is a Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus), a Whale or a Shark?
The Whale Shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. The largest mammal is the Blue Whale.
What do Whale Sharks eat and are they dangerous?
Despite their massive size they are entirely harmless unless you are tiny plankton, krill, small squid or algae, as this is all they really feed on. Krill are small crustaceans that are generally no bigger than 1 or 2 centimeters, although a few species can grow up to 15 cm. They gather in swaying swarms of up to 60,000 per square meter!
How big can Whale Sharks get?
The largest confirmed individual was 12.65m (41.50ft) in length and weighed 21.5 tons. Despite this being longer then a school bus, unconfirmed reports suggest even bigger ones existing with Whale Shark sightings by fisherman and divers alike of up to 18 meters. When you ask many of our guests returning from a daytrip out snorkelling or diving with them, the reports of how big they were gets bigger by the hour!
Where do the Whale Sharks go?
For the months that the Whale Sharks are not with us here in Panama they are off chasing the flow of food, feeding where ever the currents take them. Whale Sharks that have been tagged in Coiba island have been tracked as far South as the Galapagos Islands and as Far North as Mexico.
How many Whale Sharks are there and are they endangered?
Whalesharks are on the IUCN Red list as Vulnerable and are protected by CITES as well as the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species. Sadly, their population is decreasing as they are being hunted for their meat, liver oil, fins, skin and gills. Now, new policies for the protection of whale sharks have been enacted in Coiba and Discover Hidden Panama is eager to be a part of helping with monitoring the new regulations. More importantly, because of the decline in Whale Shark populations we work with the two largest international databases tracking and monitoring the Whale Sharks here.
What Discover Hidden Panama is trying to achieve
We also offer special packages where part of the proceeds is donated to Sea Shepherd, the worlds leading direct action ocean conservation and protection group.We offer not only for our guests to participate with us in preserving and protecting these giant fish but offer an internationally recognised certification for diving with Whale Sharks. Guests can learn about these amazing creatures and how to dive with them. This experience coupled with our underwater photography program and knowledge of identifying and cataloguing these species will help you to contribute to their preservation for many, many years as you travel to other places and continue the work within this amazing program tracking the global populations.