The whale shark is the world's largest living shark as well as the largest living fish. Whale sharks grow up to 45 ft. (13.7 m) long, and can weigh as much as 13 tons (11.6 tonnes). Their mouths alone are a whopping 6 ft. (1.8 m) across-big enough to gulp down three percent of their body weight in food in one sitting. As well as eating planktonic (microscopic) prey, whale sharks will also take nektonic (larger free-swimming) species, including fish and squid, when they get the chance. However, unlike their smaller cousins, these sharks are real gentle.
Their mouths have only one job to do: to suck in as much water as possible. Once the mouth is closed, the water is forced out again, through the shark's gills. Spongy plates between the gill bars (the structures that support the gills) filter out anything larger than a few millimeters. So, the food stays in and the water goes out.
Whale sharks prefer warm waters where plankton flourishes. They are frequently seen close to the shore, sometimes entering lagoons or coral reefs where food is more plentiful.
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