Title: Our coolest
Niue experience – a whale shark
Last week a large whale came up right next to our boat. Actually, he came right next to the cockpit twice – which we thought was a pretty unique experience. However, when we tried to identify the species of whale he did not match any of the whales shown on the identification sheet that we had received at the Niue Festival. Several days later Bill suggested that it might have been a whale shark.
He was right. We searched the internet and found images of a whale shark. That is definitely the creature that surfaced twice within 5 feet of our cockpit. And it was really big – at least 35 feet in length.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about a whale shark:
The whale shark, Rhincodon typus, is a slow filter feeding shark that is the largest living fish species. It can grow up to 12.2 m. (40 ft.) in length and can weigh up to 13.6 metric tonnes (15 short tons). This distinctively-marked shark is the only member of its genus Rhincodon and its family, Rhincodontidae (called Rhinodontes before 1984), which is grouped into the subclass Elasmobranchii in the class Chondrichthyes. The shark is found in tropical and warm oceans and lives in the open sea. The species is believed to have originated about 60 million years ago.
As a filter feeder, it has a capacious mouth which can be up to 1.5 metres (4.9 ft) wide and can contain between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth. It has five large pairs of gills. Two small eyes are located towards the front of the shark's wide, flat head. The body is mostly grey with a white belly; three prominent ridges run along each side of the animal and the skin is marked with a "checkerboard" of pale yellow spots and stripes. These spots are unique to each whale shark and because of this they can be used to identify each animal and hence make an accurate population count. Its skin can be up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in) thick. The shark has a pair each of dorsal fins and pectoral fins. A juvenile whale shark's tail has a larger upper fin than lower fin while the adult tail becomes semi-lunate (or crescent-shaped). The whale shark's spiracles are just behind the eyes.
The whale shark is not an efficient swimmer since the entire body is used for swimming, which is unusual for fish and contributes to an average speed of only around 5-kilometre-per-hour (3.1 mph).
This species, despite its enormous size, does not pose any significant danger to humans. It is a frequently cited example when educating the public about the popular misconceptions of all sharks as "man-eaters". They are actually quite gentle and can be playful with divers. There are unconfirmed reports of sharks lying still, upside down on the surface to allow divers to scrape parasites and other organisms from their bellies. Divers and snorkelers can swim with this giant fish without any risk apart from unintentionally being struck by the shark's large tail fin.