Whale Sharks, the largest fish in the sea, migrate annually to the Galapagos to feed off of the plankton in the nutrient-rich waters of the archipelago during the months of July to December. The islands are also one of the few places to find pregnant females, making a final stop before heading up to Mexico and out to sea to give birth.
The massive, polka-dotted creatures can grow to reach 60 feet and can weigh up to an astonishing 30 metric tons. Whale sharks are exceptionally quick to grow. one whale shark born in captivity in Japan went from weighing 1.7 to 333.4 pounds in just over three years. Another grew an incredible 18 inches a year over the course of two years.
Whale Sharks feed using suction, drawing tons of water into their mouths, through 350 rows of tiny teeth, and out through their six gills. One adult shark can consume as much as 46 pounds of plankton a day.
The whale shark travels thousands of miles a year, traveling between feeding grounds off of the western shores of Australia, Indonesia, and Belize. One study tracked a pregnant female who traveled between Brazil and Africa and up to the Galapagos before losing track of the animal.
Another survey of whale sharks between 2011 and 2013 discovered 695 pregnant females passing through the Galapagos, finding that the waters are not only a feeding ground but a final stop before heading out to sea to give birth.
Most of the other feeding grounds around the world are dominated by males, and marine biologists are still trying to understand why females flock to the islands.
Ecoceans, an Australian non-profit committed to helping the endangered species, has a massive library of whale shark photos from all over the world that they use to track and study whale sharks. Travelers are encouraged to send their pictures to add to the collection through their website.
Happy Gringo offers Galapagos diving cruises that travel to the northern waters around Darwin and Wolf Islands where you can see Whale Sharks. Contact us for more information about the Galapagos Islands.