Despite being commonly associated with other species of sharks, which are highly predatory in nature, whale sharks are the opposite. They are peaceful, docile fish that never hunt anything larger than krill and copepods. When it comes down to their relationship with humans, whale sharks are extremely friendly, although not considered as interactive or intelligent as most marine mammals like dolphins or sea turtles. Despite their size and somewhat intimidating shark-like appearance, whale sharks are safe to swim with.
Before going any further, it’s important to understand that whale sharks are actually sharks, not whales. They are slow-moving, filter-feeding fish belonging to the family Rhincodontidae, and they are also known to be the largest extant fish species in existence. Whale sharks are typically very docile, and this is because, unlike most types of sharks, they are not predators. Despite their size of up to 12 meters in length, they move at a slow pace, and their diets mainly consist of fish eggs, krill, copepods and small nektonic creatures.
Whale sharks are docile fish that, most experts agree, pose no danger whatsoever to humans. In many locations, divers are free to approach whale sharks, and some may even hitch a ride on one. While this type of behavior is discouraged by marine biologists primarily because of the possible adverse effects it may have on the shark, underwater photographers have often taken pictures and footage of these creatures swimming close to humans without any danger or discomfort. Baby whale sharks are the friendliest, and they are even known to not only allow divers to come close, but also to play with them.
For anyone wishing to spot or swim with whale sharks, they can be seen by divers in many places throughout the world. Some of the most common locations include the Bay Islands in Honduras, as well as the coasts of Western Australia, Panama, Taiwan, South Africa and Puerto Rico. While in many places divers are free to interact with whale sharks, there are a few locations where the fish is actually protected from divers by law. Vietnamese culture refers to the whale shark as “sir fish” and in the Philippines, the whale shark is even depicted on the reverse of the 100-peso bill. By law, the Philippine authorities may fine or even sentence divers to jail time just for getting close to a distance of within four feet from the fish.