The largest species of shark is the whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Whale sharks are known for their immense size, with some individuals exceeding 40 feet (12 meters) in length. The largest confirmed whale shark on record reached around 61.7 feet (18.8 meters).
Whale sharks can be found in warm tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They are known to inhabit both coastal and open ocean areas. Some regions where whale sharks are commonly spotted include:
1. **Western Australia**: The Ningaloo Reef on the western coast of Australia is one of the most famous places to encounter whale sharks, particularly during their annual migration.
2. **The Maldives**: Whale sharks are frequently seen in the waters around the Maldives, and many tour operators offer snorkeling and diving experiences with these gentle giants.
3. **Philippines**: The Philippines, including areas like Donsol and Oslob, is another popular destination for encountering whale sharks.
4. **Mexico**: The Yucatan Peninsula, specifically places like Isla Holbox, Isla Mujeres, and the Bay of La Paz, is known for its whale shark aggregations.
5. **Thailand**: The Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea are known to have seasonal sightings of whale sharks.
6. **Indonesia**: Locations such as Cenderawasih Bay and the Raja Ampat Islands are known for their whale shark populations.
Whale sharks are filter feeders, primarily consuming plankton, small fish, and other microscopic organisms. Despite their enormous size, they are known for their gentle and non-aggressive nature, making them a popular subject for ecotourism and conservation efforts. However, they are considered vulnerable due to threats like habitat degradation and fisheries bycatch, and they are protected by conservation laws in many countries.