The whale shark is the largest species of fish in existence today (this is where its name came from): the largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 meters and a weight of 21.5 tones. Its tail can be up to 2,5 meters long and a seal swimming sideward could fit in its mouth. There exist many stories about bigger whale sharks but they are considered to be almost legends as there are no reliable data about them.
Their belly is completely white and on the dark grey back every individual has a particular pattern made of white or yellow spots and vertical and horizontal stripes which makes it easy to distinguish them. This shark lives in warm seas and oceans near the tropics. It is believed to be a pelagic fish, that is to say, living at the high seas, away from the coast, but it is common to see it in lagoons or coral atolls and near river mouths. It uses its whole body to swim so its speed is 5 km/h, less than could be expected for a fish its size. Only 3 species of sharks use the filter feeding system, and the whale shark is one of them: it sucks up a large amount of water which is filtered through its filter pads when closing the mouth.
Several programs have been started to take a census of this shark population, however the number is unknown, as it is rare to see young individuals. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers this species is in a vulnerable status. Despite the sharks’ bad reputation and their large size, whale sharks are not dangerous for humans, and their behavior toward divers is very gentle and relaxed. So if you want to swim with these huge sharks, diving in Maldives is a chance you cannot miss.