The Galapagos Whale Shark Facts

  • Scientific Name:
    Rhincodon typus
  • Family:
    Whale Sharks - Rhincondontidae
  • Size:
    20 - 45ft, max 55 ft (6 - 13m, max 17m)
  • Depth:
    6 - 60 ft (2 - 20m)
The Galapagos Whale Shark

The whale shark is the biggest of the sharks and the biggest fish on our planet. Although the name might suggest otherwise, it is NOT a whale. This shark has a very big mouth which can be up to 4 feet (1.4 m) wide. Unlike with most sharks, where the mouth is found on the underside of the head, the mouth of a whale shark is found at the front of its head. It has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, very small eyes, 2 dorsal fins (on its back), 5 very large gill slits, and 2 pectoral fins (on its sides). Its tail, similar to that of other shark species like the Hammerhead shark, has a top fin much larger than the lower fin.

Whale sharks have distinctive light-yellow / white markings (random stripes and dots) on its very thick dark gray skin. The skin is up to 4 inches (10 cm) thick and there are three prominent ridges running along each side of the shark's body. Unlike most sharks, whale sharks do not attack other fish to feed and they lack the distinctive shark teeth rows. Instead, this enormous shark is a filter feeder and sieves enormous amounts of plankton to eat through its gills as it swims


It is gray to gray-brown, fading to white on the underside; thin whitish lines join spots on its back. Three ridges run on its sides from the head to the base of the tail. Its first dorsal fin is more than halfway back on the body. It is the world's largest fish.

In July 2016, the IUCN Red List announced that the whale shark was no longer listed as vulnerable but rather endangered, thus sliding closer towards extinction.

Habitat & Behavior:

Considered open-water oceanic. Occasionally cruises along walls and steep boulder strewn slopes. Feeds on plankton, baitfish, tuna, squid and pelagic crustaceans that are sieved from the water.

Abundance & Distribution:

Uncommon in the entire archipelago and rarely seen during a Galapagos cruise. The more common places for seing this large shark are the waters around Wolf Island and Darwin Island in the north, primarily during the cold season when the Humboldt Current is strongest.

While many of the Whale Sharks around Galapagos will migrate and usually return the following calendar year, a good percentage of them stay within the Galapagos archipelago. Three different ocean currents converge on the archipelago, each from a different temperature zone. Between these three ocean currents, there is always, at least, one Whale Shark bringing in plankton that is the Whale Sharks primary food source.

Other Galapagos Whale Shark Topics:

- Albino Whale Shark Spotted in Galapagos

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