A review of the biology, fisheries and conservation of the whale shark Rhincodon typus



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Corrigendum Volume 82, Issue 5, 1769, Article first published online: 9 April 2013

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Although the whale shark Rhincodon typus is the largest extant fish, it was not described until 1828 and by 1986 there were only 320 records of this species. Since then, growth in tourism and marine recreation globally has lead to a significant increase in the number of sightings and several areas with annual occurrences have been identified, spurring a surge of research on the species. Simultaneously, there was a great expansion in targeted R. typus fisheries to supply the Asian restaurant trade, as well as a largely un-quantified by-catch of the species in purse-seine tuna fisheries. Currently R. typus is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable, due mainly to the effects of targeted fishing in two areas. Photo-identification has shown that R. typus form seasonal size and sex segregated feeding aggregations and that a large proportion of fish in these aggregations are philopatric in the broadest sense, tending to return to, or remain near, a particular site. Somewhat conversely, satellite tracking studies have shown that fish from these aggregations can migrate at ocean-basin scales and genetic studies have, to date, found little graphic differentiation globally. Conservation approaches are now informed by observational and environmental studies that have provided insight into the feeding habits of the species and its preferred habitats. Notwithstanding these advances, there remain notable gaps in the knowledge of this species particularly with respect to the life history of neonates and adults who are not found in the feeding aggregations.