Always spotted but rarely seen

Updated: Oct 2

Meet the largest living fish in the ocean, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) growing up to 12 metres long! Whale shark is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon and the only extant member of the family Rhincodontidae. The name "whale shark" refers to the fish's size, being as large as some species of whales.

Photo Description: The whale shark (Rhincodon typus). Photo Credits – Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (AIMS), [CC BY 2.0]

Whale sharks are covered in a pattern of spots that is unique to each shark, much like human fingerprints. Inside their roughly 1.5m-wide mouths, they have over 300 rows of tiny teeth. Despite this impressive dental array, these fish are filter feeders, swimming forward to swallow prey. They eat krill, crab and fish larvae, small schooling fish, and jellyfish. Humans are not on the menu. Whale sharks are docile creatures, often allowing humans to swim near them.


Whale sharks live in warm and tropical seas and are highly migratory animals that swim across vast ocean distances, often diving to depths of more than 1,000 metres below the surface to feed and thermoregulate. Feeding aggregations occur seasonally at several locations, including Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, where they support a tourism industry worth over twenty million dollars.


The whale shark is ovoviparous, meaning the female produces eggs that hatch insider her. When the young are fully developed, the female gives birth to around 300 live young. Whale sharks reach sexual maturity at 30 years and live to a total of around 70 to 100 years.


The whale shark is listed as endangered (population trend decreasing) on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Key risks are vessel strikes and being caught accidentally by commercial fishing vessels.


The chromosome-length assembly we share today is based on the draft assembly published by Jessica Weber, Jong Bhak, George M. Church and coauthors in PNAS (Weber et al., 2020). This draft assembly was scaffolded with 279,901,000 PE Hi-C reads generated by DNA Zoo Australia labs and analysed using 3D-DNA (Dudchenko et al., 2017) and Juicebox Assembly Tools (Dudchenko et al., 2018). See our Methods page for more details!


We gratefully acknowledge the tissue samples provided by Dr Luke Thomas from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). The Hi-C work was supported by resources provided by DNA Zoo Australia, The University of Western Australia (UWA) and DNA Zoo, Aiden Lab at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) with additional computational resources and support from the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia.


Check the interactive chromosome-length contact map below and a whole-genome alignment map to another shark genome in our collection, a chromosome-length upgrade for brownbanded bamboo shark Chiloscyllium punctatum from the draft published by Hara et al., 2018. Explore more details on the corresponding assembly page!


Whole-genome alignment plot between the new whale shark genome assembly (RhiTyp_1.0_HiC) and the brownbanded banboo shark genome assembly (Cpunctatum_v1.0_HiC) suggesting a high degree of karyotype conservation between species of carpet sharks (Orectolobiformes).

Citations:

  1. Jessica A. Weber, Seung Gu Park, Victor Luria, et al., (2020) “The whale shark genome reveals how genomic and physiological properties scale with body size,” PNAS, 117 (34) 20662-20671; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1922576117

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