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Whale Sharks of Kauai & Niihau

Whale sharks are a rare and special sight on our tours and although they’re more frequently seen in the deeper waters of our Niihau + Napali Super Tour, we’ve seen them on our Kauai boat tours and Napali Coast boat tours as well.

The name whale shark throws people off because first of all, they’re not whales. They’re just as big as whales– often growing to the size of a school bus! They hold the title of the largest living fish species.

So, they’re not really whales, but are they really sharks? Yes, but while that word has been unfairly characterized with danger, whale sharks are completely non-aggressive, non-threatening, and their tiny remnant teeth are so small they feel like sandpaper.

Whale sharks are truly the gentle giants of the sea. They’re curious and will approach boats, divers, and snorkelers! Although it’s not recommended to touch them (they have a protective membrane/slime that protects them from infections and parasites), they have been known to nudge snorkelers and divers as though they crave attention. How sweet is that?

Kauai whale sharks

Whale sharks are solitary creatures and are rarely seen in groups unless feeding at locations with an abundance of food. The species is believed to have originated about 60 million years ago and their lifespan ranges from 60 to 150 years.

Besides their enormous size, another reason they’re called whale sharks is because, like whales, they’re filter feeders. Their enormous mouths can be up to 5 feet wide and contain up to 300 rows of tiny teeth. The many rows of tiny teeth play no role in feeding – instead, the shark sucks in a mouthful of water, closes its mouth, and expels the water through its gills, trapping phytoplankton, macro-algae, plankton, krill, and small nektonic life, such as small squid or vertebrates.

Whale sharks’ skin is marked with pale spots and stripes that are unique to each whale shark, like a fingerprint. Interestingly, it remains a mystery to scientists around the world as to where females give birth to pups. Pupping has never been witnessed, and the youngest animals are rarely observed. Secrets of the ocean!

If you’re in the water with a whale shark, try not to freak out. Take a deep breath, feel safe and accept your incredible gift from mother nature.