Mommy shark

Whale shark, world’s largest fish, spotted off Eilat coast

First sighting of the year comes after members of species were seen multiple times last year; despite their size, they aren’t dangerous to humans

A whale shark spotted off the coast of Eilat on May 3, 2020. (Omri Omasi/Israel Nature and Parks Authority)
A whale shark spotted off the coast of Eilat on May 3, 2020. (Omri Omasi/Israel Nature and Parks Authority)

A rare whale shark was spotted Sunday morning swimming amid the coral reefs of the Red Sea, off the coast of the southern Israeli city of Eilat.

The sighting came a year after a specimen of the shark, the world’s largest fish, was last seen in the area.

It was spotted and filmed Sunday by inspectors from the Eilat maritime unit of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Conservationists last summer spotted four whale sharks off the coast of Eilat in six weeks. They were not seen there at all in 2018.

Whale sharks, which can reach 15 meters (50 feet) in length, weigh up to 34 tons (68,000 pounds) and live for 80 years, are not dangerous to humans. They are found in tropical seas all over the world.

Each whale shark has a unique pattern of white spots on its body.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, skimming plankton and small fish close to the surface and traveling great distances to find food. Their presence is seen as an indicator of healthy plankton populations.

But they are an endangered species, primarily because of fin fishing, in which their fins are cut off for the Asian food industry and they are left to die.

While fin fishing still goes on all over the world, conservationists in China have linked up with TV stars to campaign against shark fin soup and some couples are refusing to serve shark fin soup at weddings, all of which is raising awareness of the practice.

Whale sharks are also at risk of entanglement in fishing nets and of injury and death from passing ships, since they feed so close to the ocean surface. Last year, a large vessel killed a whale shark in Jordan.

It is not known how many whale sharks exist in the world, as data can only be based on sightings. However, their numbers are thought to be declining significantly.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.

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