Texas – Did you know the world’s largest fish, whale sharks, can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and have even been spotted as close as 100 miles off the coast of Texas?
Texas Parks and Wildlife tweeted Tuesday that whale sharks arrive in the Gulf each summer so KSAT reached out to learn a little more about these filter-feeding fish.
The photo of the whale shark shared by TPWD in the tweet was taken in October 2012 near the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary located roughly 100 miles off the coast of Galveston. It’s the only sanctuary site located in the Gulf of Mexico.
Look what we found swimming near #Texas. Whale sharks arrive in the Gulf each summer. The gentle giants are filter feeders and generally pose no harm to humans https://t.co/It4OrTJkES#SharkAwarenessDay pic.twitter.com/ODciAkRykJ— TX Parks & Wildlife (@TPWDnews) July 14, 2020
“Because of the ongoing pandemic we have not sent our Artificial Reef Team out into the Gulf for their routine monitoring of artificial reefs. The Coastal Fisheries Division does not study whale sharks in the Gulf. This photo was just an amazing sighting for our team in 2012 when out on a dive sampling,” TPWD coastal fisheries division spokesperson Julie Hagen told KSAT.
Rhincodon typus, more commonly known as a whale shark, can grow up to 40 feet in length and scientists believe they can live to be 60-100 years old, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“The federal government (NOAA) works, samples, researches and protects large fish like the whale shark as well as marine mammals (sea turtles, dolphins, whales) in federal water. Universities and non profits also play a major role in offshore coastal research,” Hagen said.
A 2010 article written by a freelance journalist for TPWD magazine noted that whale sharks have been seen circling rigs off South Padre Island.
Whale sharks “frequent the northern Gulf, southern Gulf and Caribbean around the same time - June to September,” according to the article.
Yucatán fishermen started noticing the whale sharks gathering in the early 2000s in the southern Gulf and began taking tourists to see the massive animals which caused concern for the shark’s safety.
At the time of the article’s publication, whale sharks were listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
An IUCN article from July 2016 said whale sharks are now listed as endangered and their population has “more than halved over the last 75 years as these slow-moving sharks continue to be fished and killed by ship propellers.”
Did you see one? Whale shark sightings in the northern Gulf of Mexico can be reported to the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi.