Animal Species:Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus (Smith, 1828)

The Whale Shark is the largest of all fishes and is found in tropical and warm temperate waters. It is a slow moving shark that feeds on small crustaceans, squid and fishes from the water using filtering screens on its gills.

Standard Common Name

Whale Shark


It can be easily recognised by size and colour pattern. The back and sides are blue to blackish with white stripes and blotches. The ventral surface is whitish.

The species has prominent ridges on the sides of the body with the lowermost ridge expanding into a keel on the caudal peduncle.

Size range

It may grow up to 18 m in length, but fish of 4 m to 12 m in length are more commonly seen.


In Australia it is known primarily from northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland. It is also recorded from scattered localities in New South Wales, Victoria and the western Great Australian Bight.

The map below shows the Australian distribution of the species based on public sightings and specimens in Australian Museums.  Source: Atlas of Living Australia.

Rhincodon typus

Distribution by collection data

Ozcam map of Whale Shark specimens in the Australian Museums.

What does this mean?


The Whale Shark is a pelagic species that occurs in continental shelf and offshore waters in both tropical and warm temperate waters of all oceans.

Feeding and Diet

There are about 300 tiny, hooked teeth in both jaws. Whale Sharks feed by filtering small crustaceans, squid and fishes from the water using filtering screens on the gills. The species usually feeds by swimming with the huge mouth open, however it can also feed by hanging vertically in the water and opening its mouth to allow water to rush in.

Whale Sharks follow migratory patterns that may be related to the presence of their prey.

Predators, Parasites and Diseases

Moore and Newbrey (2015) reported that the vertebrae of a Whale Shark were found in the stomach of a 4.5 m long White Shark. It is unknown whether the Whale Shark was alive or dead when it was eaten.

Danger to humans and first aid

Despite its huge size, the Whale Shark is not a threat to people.



What does this mean?


  1. Last, P.R. & J.D. Stevens. 1994 Sharks and Rays of Australia. CSIRO. Pp. 513.
  2. Moore, G.I. & M.G. Newbrey, 2015. Whale shark on white shark's menu. Mar. Biodiv. DOI 10.1007/s12526-015-0430-9.
  3. Paxton, J.R., D.F. Hoese, G.R. Allen & J.E. Hanley. 1989. Zoological Catalogue of Australia Vol.7 Pisces Petromyzontidae to Carangidae. Canberra: Australian Biological Resources Survey. Pp. i-xii, 1-665. Randall, J.E.,
  4. Allen, G.R. & R.C. Steene. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Crawford House Press. Pp. 557.

Mark McGrouther , Senior Fellow
Last Updated:

Tags fishes, ichthyology, Whale Shark, Rhincodon typus, Rhincodontidae, prominent ridges, largest fish, tropical water, termperate water, > 5m, adult, marine, large size, blue, white stripes and blotches, dots/spots,


Mark McGrouther - 5.06 PM, 17 June 2009
Erik, That is a fabulous photo! Thank you. I particularly liked looking at the different species that are swimming or holding onto the shark.
eschlogl - 4.06 PM, 17 June 2009
Whale Shark photographed 27-Apr-09 at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia (attached).

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