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Fact of the Day: Whale Sharks

In honor of Shark Week, which is just a few short weeks away, my first “Fact of the Day” post will be about -- you guessed it -- sharks!

The whale shark is the largest fish in the world. These sharks grow up to 65 feet (20 meters) long and their mouths are 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide.

And here’s a bonus fact: whale sharks have the thickest skin of any animal in the world at up to 4 inches thick.

Curious for more? Be sure to come back tomorrow for another exciting fact or check out and do some investigating on your own!

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Whale Sharks: Belize’s Gentle Giants

whale shark

© 2010 Tony Rath/

And now, for something entirely different… a brief respite from the oil spill madness. A reminder of the beauty of the seas from Oceana scientist Margot Stiles. - Emily

Every spring Belize hosts one of nature’s great wonders: the arrival of whale sharks in search of spawning snapper. This year I had the pleasure of witnessing it first hand, on last month’s Oceana expedition.

The whale shark is the largest fish in the sea at 60 feet long, but it is mild-mannered and harmless to people. Around the full moons of March through June each year, whale sharks arrive and begin feeding at the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve near Placencia, Belize.

Tony Rath of Naturalight Productions has spent thirty years photographing wildlife in Belize and still beams at the mention of his most recent expedition with Oceana. “Seeing whale sharks this close is an unforgettable experience, as inspiring as seeing a puma or any of the large animals on land,” he said.

I couldn’t agree more. Despite hundreds of dives around the world, I found swimming side-by-side with a whale shark truly sublime, a transcendent moment I’ll look back on for many years to come.

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Whale...Shark Wednesday

whale shark

In keeping with this week's theme, today is Whale Shark Wednesday, of course. I thought we'd take a day to step back and appreciate the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark. Here are five things you might not know about the beautiful predators: 1. You could fit inside a whale shark's five-foot-wide-mouth, but they wouldn't want you in there. Whale sharks eat plankton. 2. Whale sharks have the thickest skin of any animal, at up to 4 inches thick. 3. They can live up to 100 years old and may have up to 300 young per litter. 4. A majority of whale sharks are caught for their fins before they even reach maturity. As a result, whale shark populations are decreasing in numerous regions and the average size of Australian whale sharks is shrinking. 5. Every whale shark has a unique pattern of white spots on its back, allowing scientists to identify individuals. (Plus it makes them mesmerizing to look at.)

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