The species was distinguished in April 1828 following the harpooning of a 4.6-metre (15.1 ft) specimen in Table Bay, South Africa.
Andrew Smith, a military doctor associated with British troops stationed in Cape Town described it the following year. He published a more detailed description in 1849. The name "whale shark" is a misnomer and comes from the fish's physiology and feeding patterns.
It's as large as a whale and filter feeds but is not a mammal.
Known as a deity in a Vietnamese culture, the whale shark is called "Ca Ong", which literally translates as "Sir Fish".
In Mexico, and throughout much of Latin America, the whale shark is known as "pez dama" or "domino" for its distinctive patterns of spots. However, they go by "Sapodilla Tom" in Belize due to the regularity of sightings near the Sapodilla Cayes on the Belize Barrier Reef.
Here in Utila it goes by the name of Old Tom.
In Africa, the names for the whale shark are very evocative: "papa shillingi" in Kenya came from the myth that God threw shillings upon the shark which are now its spots. In Madagascar the name is "marokintana" meaning "many stars".
Javanese also reference the stars by calling it "geger lintang," meaning "stars in the back". In the Philippines, it is called "butanding"
10/24/2012: Whale Shark Migration more >>
09/27/2012: Guided Snorkel Tours more >>
07/05/2011: 54 souls, mostly new faces, braved the storm last night to pack the Utila Lodge Bar for Jon's weekly whale shark presentation. Thanks to everyone, especially Shawn and Kate Boyer from Miami who adopted a whale shark, for coming out... more >>Join mailing list >>