The giant tail of a passing whale shark almost hits a diver

Whale sharks are the largest sharks and even the largest fish in all the oceans. With the exception of a few species of whales, there are no living animals this large. But despite their enormous size, they are gentle and harmless creatures, incapable of biting or injuring a human except by accident. This scuba diver almost missed being one of the very rare victims of such an accident. The huge tail glides past her, inches closer to her face as she turns just in time to flinch and move away from the path of the great beast’s tail. Whale sharks inhabit almost all tropical and subtropical waters around the world. They migrate long distances for feeding, mating and other reasons. But the Galapagos Islands are a very popular spot for whale sharks, especially for pregnant females. This massive female was sighted near Darwin Island and was free-swimming by a group of divers who were exploring the edge of the island at a depth of 20 m (65 ft). The shark turned lazily, passing by the delighted group, and each of the divers reacted with great interest to look at this beautiful creature up close. Full of admiration, they swim and move to get a clearer view, and also to stay out of his way. They understand that they encounter one of the largest and heaviest animals on earth and must be careful not to collide with them. One of the divers glances briefly to her right, and at that moment the shark turns and rubs its massive tail to the right. The tail is about to bump into her solidly as she watches and adjusts just in time. He can’t move fast enough to create distance, so he curls up and rolls onto his side, hoping to reduce the impact and protect his face and diving mask. Fortunately, the tail misses her by a few inches and nothing happens to her. The whale shark swims away slowly, probably unaware of the situation the clumsy man is facing. Whale sharks are filter feeders. When feeding, they swim with their mouths open, eating small fish, eggs, plankton, and shrimp. They have no teeth and cannot bite. Their only means of self-defense is to outsmart a predator such as a shark or killer whale, occasionally diving deep as they flee from danger. Whale sharks are capable of descending to depths of over 500 m (1,600 ft). They have been recorded at depths of over 1,900 m (6,300 ft), making them the deepest diving fish ever recorded. The whale shark is poorly understood. Scientists estimate that their life expectancy is 80 to 130 years. They can reach a maximum size of 18 m (62 ft), but their maximum weight is only an estimate. How and where they deliver their offspring is a mystery and few whale shark pups have ever been sighted. Even their mating behavior is rarely observed. Research on whale sharks is becoming increasingly important as we fight to preserve and protect these giants as their numbers decline. Losing them forever would be more than a tragedy.

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