CITES identification manual Whale Shark

(Rhincodon typus Smith 1829)
Brad Norman, ECOCEAN
Marine Species Section
Environment Australia, October 2002
ISBN 0 642 54900 1


Class Elasmobranchii
Order Orectolobiformes
Family Rhincodontidae
Species Rhincodon typus

Scientific Synonyms

Rhiniodon typus Smith, 1828;

Common Names

English whale shark
Indian Panai meen, Uravi, Pullian surrow, Pulli-udoombu, Makara sravu, Osman shira, Karaj, Bharait, Bahiri, Vori mas meer, Barrel
Pakistan Mhor
Sri Lanka Muni-muthu-mora
Philippines Butanding, balilan, toki, tawiki, tuki-tuki
China Jing Sha, tofu shark
Japan Ebisuzame
France Requin-baleine
Spain Tiburon ballena, pez dama
Taiwan Tofusa, tofu shark

Conservation status

The whale shark is protected in the waters of very few of the approximately 100 countries where this species is known to visit. While protected in Honduran and some US waters, the Maldives brought in legislation to protect whale sharks in 1995 and the Philippine government banned the hunting of whale sharks in 1998. India followed in mid-2001. However, some illegal hunting still continues.

At several other locations, unregulated fishing for whale sharks is apparent. The effort is expanding, with the number of whale sharks caught (relative to effort) appearing to decline. In Western Australian waters, the whale shark is fully protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1996 and the Fish Resources Management Act 1994. The whale sharks are identified as both a migratory species and recently a threatened species on the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act).

The whale shark is listed on the Bonn Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). This identifies the whale shark as a species whose conservation status would benefit from the implementation of international cooperative agreements.


Whale sharks have a broad distribution in tropical and warm temperate seas, usually between latitudes 30°N and 35°S. They are known to inhabit both deep and shallow coastal waters and the lagoons of coral atolls and reefs. Australia is one of the most reliable locations to find whale sharks, with large numbers sighted each year at Ningaloo Marine Park (NMP) in Western Australia. Regular sightings have also been recorded from many other regions including India, the Maldives, Taiwan, Seychelles, Honduras, South Africa, Kenya, Belize, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, Chile, Thailand, the Philippines, northern Borneo, Malaysia, Mauritius and Indonesia.

This species is thought to prefer surface sea-water temperatures between 21 - 25°C. Sightings at NMP, however, are most common in water temperatures around 27°C. The sharks (regularly) appear at locations where seasonal food 'pulses' are known to occur. The predictable annual whale shark aggregation at NMP is closely linked with an increase in productivity of the region, associated with a mass coral spawn which occurs around March/April each year.