Whale sharks are one of only three known species of filter feeding sharks. Whale sharks feed by sucking water into their mouth, which also draws in plankton as well as jellyfish, anchovies, fish larvae, and coral. Once in the shark's mouth, the mix is pushed through a filter in the gills so that water leaves but prey remains. If something too large gets caught in its gills, a shark will sometimes cough to help clear the obstruction. Whale sharks have also been observed swimming through large gatherings of zooplankton and can easily decimate an entire school of krill in one pass. While it is currently unknown how much a whale shark eats in a day, they are thought to spend the majority of their day eating. Whale sharks gather along the Ningaloo Reef off of western Australia in March and April and along the Belize Barrier Reef in April and May, which is likely associated with spawning of coral and fish that occurs in these locations around the same time. Whale sharks also gather in New Zealand when the upwelling that occurs off North Island is at its weakest. This upwelling causes an abundance of nutrients for plankton which in turn attract larger animals that eat the plankton.
Animal Foods: fish; cnidarians; zooplankton
Plant Foods: phytoplankton
Foraging Behavior: filter-feeding
Primary Diet: planktivore
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