Gentle giants: whale sharks (Rhincodon typus)

0% whale and 100% shark, whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, reaching up to 18m (60 ft). Primarily pelagic, they can be found in both coastal and oceanic habitats. Whale sharks are found in tropical areas worldwide, including the warm waters of Mexico from the Sea of Cortez to the eastern Mexican coast in the Caribbean. They are generally solitary animals but sometimes gather in large groups to take advantage of good feeding opportunities.

They lack proper teeth since they don´t really need them: whale sharks are filter feeders. Their teeth are actually very tiny and they also have filter pads in their gills. This makes them one of only three known filter-feeding shark species (along with the basking shark and the megamouth shark). Their main source of food is plankton, but they can also feed on other small animals like baitfish and squid. For feeding, they swallow water either by opening their mouth and swimming forward or by active suction, opening and closing their mouth. The water is then expelled through the gills, which filter the food. A juvenile whale shark is estimated to eat 21 kg (46 pounds) of plankton per day.

Whale shark

They are gray or gray-blue with a beautiful pattern of white lines and dots. This pattern is unique to each individual, like a fingerprint, and can be used for identification. Scientists have created databases collecting data from sightings worldwide, using photos uploaded by researchers and citizens, allowing us to follow different individuals through these sightings. Have you photographed any whale sharks? You can upload your photos on this link to participate in a global citizen science project!

Whale sharks in the Baja California Peninsula

One of the first places you might have heard about for whale shark encounters is La Paz, in Baja California Sur. From November to April, they gather in this area to feed in the plankton-rich waters of the Bay. During this time of the year, the water in this part of the Sea of Cortez starts getting colder and fills up with nutrients, producing plankton blooms that are the delight of these gentle giants. These months is possible to see them feeding non-stop, gulping litres and litres of water to fill up their massive appetites.

Another important place for whale shark aggregations is Bahia de Los Angeles, in Baja California. A seasonal feeding aggregation occurs in this beautiful area from May to December each year.
November is when the highest abundance of animals takes place. The aggregation in this area is mainly composed of juvenile males.

There are other places where individual whale sharks are sighted often in all the Peninsula. For instance, last spring season 2023 we were visited regularly by whale sharks in La Ventana!

Whale shark

Whale sharks knowledge and tourism

Despite their enormous size, we still don´t know much about these animals, and their growth, longevity, and reproduction are poorly understood. They are classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Just an example of how little we know is that to date, no one has ever witnessed a whale shark birth. The only information we have about their reproduction comes mainly from the capture of a pregnant female with more than 300 babies inside her. Females are thought to store sperm and gradually give birth to a continuous stream of fully formed live offspring over time.

Worldwide whale sharks are becoming highly appreciated and more and more people travel to different locations to swim with these gentle giants in the places where they aggregate. Snorkeling with whale sharks is a unique and unforgettable experience that we are so lucky to have right here in Baja! Want to swim with them or know more about them? Send us a message here: Contact

Want to learn about other shark species found in the Baja California Peninsula? You can read this other article

Baja California Wildlife- Sharks- Wildlife stories

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