Feeding and diet

Whale sharks are one of three shark species that feed thru a water filter mechanism along with the peregrine shark and the megamouth shark. Whale sharks feed mostly on plankton, including phytoplankton and zooplankton such as krill and sometimes from small squids or vertebrates.

The method in which the whale shark introduces food to it’s mouth is that it sucks big amounts of water and by closing its mouth this water is expelled thru its gills. This mechanism prevents the passage of anything but fluid out of the gills, anything above 3 mm in diameter is trapped, on the other hand, any material caught in the filter between the gill bars is swallowed. Whale sharks “cough” as a method of clearing build ups of food particles in the gill rakers.

Whale sharks are active feeders and usually targets concentrations of plankton or fish. It is estimated that Young whale sharks can eat up to 45 pounds of plankton per day.

Whale sharks also feed on small nektonic organisms such as krill, crab larvae, jellyfish, sardines, anchovies, mackerels, small tunas and squids. When filtering and feeding, the whale shark swims forward at a constant speed with it’s mouth open, straining prey particles from the water by forward propulsion. This is called passive feeding.

Every year between the months of May and August, whale sharks congregate off the coast of Belize and the Yucatan peninsula and closest to the reefs in order to complement their plankton diet with red snapper roes.

Keywords: Whale sharks, feeding, plankton, krill, Belice, Yucatan peninsula