Whale sharks are the world’s biggest omnivores, scientists discover

Whale sharks are the biggest shark species in the world, and now scientists have found that the giant sharks are even more prodigious eating machines than previously thought. In addition to gulping down enormous mouthfuls of krill — tiny shrimplike crustaceans — whale sharks also swallow helping huges of seaweed, enabling the aquatic giants to officially dethrone Kodiak bears (Ursus arctos middendorffi) as the world’s largest omnivores.

Researchers made the discovery by analyzing whale shark (Rhincodon typus) skin samples collected near Western Australia’s Ningaloo reef. These gargantuan sharks are the largest fish in the sea, weighing up to 40 tons (36 metric tons) and growing to about 40 feet (12 meters) long on average, according to the National Ocean Service. Until now, scientists thought that the gentle giants were primarily filter feeders, gaping their cavernous mouths wide to gulp in roughly 21,200 cubic feet (600 cubic meters) of water every hour. Then, by straining the water out through their gills, the sharks are left with mouthfuls of plankton, shrimp, tiny fish and crustaceans to swallow down.

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