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the web of life in southern Africa

Rhincodon typus (Whale shark)

Smith, 1829

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Chondrichthyes > Elasmobranchii > Galeomorphii > Orectolobiformes > Rhincodontidae

Rhincodon typus (Whale shark) [Illustration by Ann Hecht ]


An enormous, blunt-headed shark, with a terminal mouth and prominent checkerboard pattern of white stripes and spots. Colour dark grey to reddish brown above, white below.


The largest living fish, to at least 12 m TL, and possibly up to 16 to 21 m.


Primarily off Natal and Mozambique, but wandering southwest to Table Bay, western Cape; circumtropical.



Coastal and oceanic, sometimes close inshore.


Apparently highly migratory, and possibly following plankton blooms. May lay eggs in large cases, but this is uncertain. Whale sharks are suction filter-feeders with unique filter screens on their inner gill openings, with the prey `filtered' ranging from unicellular algae and small crustaceans to tunas, albacore and squid.

Human Impact

Fished elsewhere for human consumption.

Text by Leonard J.V. Compagno, David A. Ebert and Malcolm J. Smale