With popular movies showcasing fearsome sharks, such as the classic Jaws, it’s no wonder that people wonder what is the biggest shark? There’s so much variation among sharks that it can seem unbelievable to people that not all sharks are 20 foot long predators of the deep. Most sharks are much smaller than that.
Alright, then. What Is the Biggest Shark?
The biggest shark is the Whale Shark. The largest reported specimen of Whale Shark was 62 feet (or 18.8 meters) long, making it the biggest shark alive.
The average adult of the species is roughly 32 feet long and weighs 9 tons or 20,000 pounds. While much larger Whale Sharks have been reported, it is rare to find one that is over 39 feet long. These sharks are considered the largest living species of fish, as well as the largest non-cetacean alive in the world, which comprises all known whales. Only certain whale species are larger than the Whale Shark.
The Whale Shark is relatively unique among sharks for more than just its size. They are filter feeders, similar to baleen whales. Rather than catch large fish or other sharks, these amazing animals feed predominantly on plankton, small fish, and microscopic marine life. The only other filter feeding sharks are the Megamouth Shark and the Basking Shark.
Whale Sharks are found in tropical waters of the world and are not usually found close to land, preferring open waters. The temperature of the waters they live in are rarely below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They are found all around the Equator, including around South America, Africa, and Asia.
Scientists don’t know how long these animals live, but it is estimated that their lifespan is between 70 years, possibly up to 130 years. Unfortunately there is a great deal scientists don’t know about Whale Sharks. For one, we don’t really know how big these animals can get as measurements are notoriously difficult. In the water, they are compared to objects of known length or knotted ropes, while on land there are differences in length depending on if the tail is angled or stretched out to the maximum possible length. Regardless, the Whale Shark is the biggest living shark in the world.
When you ask what is the biggest shark, many people want to know about Megalodon, which may have been the largest shark at one time. The name means “big tooth,” and this giant shark is extinct, having lived 23 to 3.6 million years ago. Although this animal is renowned as one of the biggest (and most powerful) predators to ever exist on Earth, scientists really don’t know much about it. What Megalodon looked like and how big it could get are unknown. Most estimates of its size come from teeth that have been found, which estimates that most were only 34 feet and could get up to 59 feet, still putting it at a smaller size than the largest reported Whale Shark.
Megalodon was known for its teeth. Their large jaws could exert a massive bite force, while the teeth were thick and built to grab onto prey and not let go. These animals seemed to have preferred warmer, often tropical waters, with juveniles living in coastal waters around the world. This shark likely fed on large prey, including whales, sea turtles, and seals, although it would have had competition from other animals such as ancestral killer whales and sperm whales. Contributions to its decline were likely shifting oceanic cooling and major food sources moving to cooler regions.
Great White Shark
Because of pop culture, many people may wonder if the Great White Shark is the largest shark in the world. There’s no doubt about it: these are large sharks. Females tend to be larger than males, with large females growth to be 20 feet long, although most are smaller, between 11 and 16 feet. They are considered one of the longest lived cartilaginous fish, with estimates that they live to be at least 70 years old, possibly older.
The Great White Shark is a major predator in the ocean, and its only real predator is the killer whale. It feeds on marine mammals, other fish including sharks, and even seabirds. This species of shark has also been identified as being responsible for more recorded human bites than any other shark, including fatal and unprovoked shark attacks. While Jaws frightened people out of the water, it is important to keep in mind that humans are not the ideal prey for these sharks.
Sharks range in size, from small enough for you to hold in your hand to large enough to capsize a fishing vessel. Interestingly, the biggest shark is not a major predator, instead feeding on small fish and microscopic prey, similar to some whales. There you have it: if you’ve been wondering what is the biggest shark, it’s the Whale Shark, at least until something bigger surfaces.