Despite their tremendous size and intimidating appearance, whale sharks are commonly affable and allow divers to interact with them.
Whale sharks can grow to 15 meters (50 feet) and weigh as much as 40 tons by some estimates! They have broad, flat heads with short snouts and their backs have an interesting white, yellow, and grey checkerboard pattern. Whale sharks can live up to 100 years.
These fish inhabit waters off the coast of New York to central Brazil and they prefer water temperatures of 20-25°C (68-77°F).
Whale sharks eat mostly organisms floating in the water that they strain from the water through their meter-long mouths as they swim.
In 2003, a group of scientists, including a NOAA staff member, met at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia to study and track the diving and migration patterns of the whale shark. Their data showed that the sharks generally swim at depths of 50-60 meters (164-197 feet) during the day, perhaps using the sunlight to aid in the search for food. At night, the sharks swim closer to the surface.
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