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Exploring Ocean Life: Whale Sharks

printable whale shark info sheet

Whale Sharks: World’s Largest Fish

While everyone is home, your children can have some fun learning about the natural world and doing fun creative projects.

Here are some surprising facts about whale sharks –where they live, what they eat, and what makes them unique.

Included here are printable drawings to paint or color.

(When the Museum reopens, you and your family can visit the Habitat Gallery and see the Vanderbilt’s 32-foot whale shark, the world’s largest taxidermied fish.)

This is the second in a series of online offerings from the Vanderbilt Museum’s educators.

Other projects in the Exploring Ocean Life series:

Sea Turtles

Hammerhead Sharks

More will be posted soon. Have fun!

Where do we live?

Whale sharks live in pelagic (open sea) tropical and sub-tropical water.

What do we eat?

Whale sharks ear mostly plankton (microscopic organisms), but also will eat tiny crustaceans like krill, tiny fish, and marine plants. Whale sharks do not have large teeth and do not hunt for food like most sharks. Whale sharks are filter feeders. They open their mouths and suck in water. Then, filter pads in their throats collect the food and water leaves through the gills.

Who/what are our predators?

Juvenile whale sharks are hunted by other sharks.

Are we endangered?

Yes. The greatest threat to whale sharks is human activity. Whale sharks are hunted for their skin and meat. Divers and tourists seeking “selfies” interrupt feeding and their boats cause propeller injuries.  As the oceans become warmer and more acidic from the absorption of carbon emissions, sharks struggle to survive in their natural habitat.

Interesting extras…

  • Whale sharks are ovoviviparous – their young emerge from egg sacks inside females and are born live and fully formed.
  • Whale sharks are the largest fish on earth. Individuals have been known to reach 50 feet long.
  • Biologists think whale sharks can live up to 120 years, but the average lifespan is 70 years.
  • Unlike most sharks, where the mouth is on the underside of the head, whale shark mouths are located at the front of their heads.
  • Whale sharks are cartilaginous fish.
  • Whale sharks have been observed “coughing” up food that is larger than 2 centimeters.
  • Whale sharks possess countershading camouflage – white on the underside with dark gray skin on top. Their skin is covered with white spots. These spots are like fingerprints – unique to  individual sharks
  • Technology that NASA uses to identify star systems helps biologists track whale shark migration.

Get creative!

To create your own painting of a whale shark, you will need:

  • Outline page (at left) printed, or you can draw your own)
  • Dark gray paint
  • White paint
  • Light blue or green construction paper
  1. Paint the outline page in dark gray paint.
  2. Let dry.
  3. Use a finger dipped in white paint to make spots.
  4. Cut out and glue to light blue or green construction paper.

We’d love to see your work and share it on social media.

If you’d like to share your painting with us, send a photo to beth@vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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