Jonah and the Whale Shark
Scientist almost swallowed by giant fish
Whale shark and scientist, by Mauricio Handler
They’re the largest of all fish. And they don’t bite. Instead, as filter feeders, they suck water into their mouths and filter the tiny animals that get drawn in at the same time.
So this scientist wasn’t being attacked. But if you get too close to a whale shark who’s feeding, you could get drawn in, too!
Photographer Mauricio Handler was shooting photographs off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan when another member of the team got close to a whale shark.
“The diver managed to get out of the way,” Handler said. “If he had been sucked into the massive mouth the shark would have just spat him out. They are beautiful animals and are incredibly docile. Once I was accidentally hit by a whale shark when I failed to get out of the way in time.”
Handler said he was once bumped by a whale shark himself. “It gave me a good whack as it went by.”
Whale sharks normally live to be 70 years old. The largest one ever caught (they prefer not to be caught) was in 1947. She was more than 41 feet long and weighed more than 21 tons. There are reports of whale sharks almost 60 feet long.
They gather in large numbers during the spawning season of the tiny marine animals whose eggs they eat.
Like most people who interact with animals in the ocean, Handler is very conscious of how precarious their situation is.
“I want people to realize these animals are here but one day they will not be,” he said. “We are treating the ocean like a supermarket and not allowing it to heal itself.”