Whale Shark Rhincodon typus Smith, 1828 in Captivity

I'm grateful to K. Nishida for sending me a copy "Fishes of the Kuroshio Current, Japan", which included his paper "Whale shark - the world's largest fish" and included a paragraph with all the captive records from Japan.
Whale Shark Bibliography; More recent publications

Photograph Aquarium and Details TL (m)
M (kg)
Sex Time in captivity



Mito Aquarium (Izu Mito Sea Paradise). First captive record for a whale shark from1934. The whale shark was kept for 122 days in a net enclosure of a natural bay     122 d
1995 Marine Palace (Oita Ecological Aquarium, Oita Japan) obtained a 60 cm male neonate from the Taiwan litter and kept it successfully for 3 years and 2 months until it died in Sept. 1998 when 3.7 m total length. 0.60 - 3.7 M 3.2 yr

Kagoshima City Aquarium, Japan.
Were successful in keeping captive whale shark, but Nishida (2001) gives no details. They currently have a whale shark on display in their1.5 million-liters Open Ocean tank (since spring 2006). (Thanks to Filipe Pereira for info and photo).
Update Sep 2012 by Filipe Pereira
Currently there is another whale shark in their main tank. There is no information available on this fish's origin and size, neither is there any information about the previous specimens brought to the exhibit.

    ~1 yr
Dec 2000 Kinosaki Marine World, Japan. Attempted to keep captive whale shark but not successful as of Dec. 2000.      
Dec 2000 Notojima Aquarium, Japan. Attempted to keep captive whale shark but not successful as of Dec. 2000.      
Dec 2002

Aquarium Thiruvananthapuram, India
The Hindu Dec. 27, 2002
Kerala: Whale shark dies in aquarium Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 27. (PTI): A rare whale shark kept in an aquarium here died "due to difficulty in surviving in artificial conditions," after attracting sizeable visitors since it was brought ashore by local fishermen yesterday. The 95 cm long white-dotted "juvenile" belonging to "Rhincodon typus" species, netted off the Vizhinjam coast near here, was the smallest of the type recorded so far from the Indian coast, a scientist at the Marine Aquarium at Vizhinjam said. The largest living fish species, the smallest of this type recorded earlier was 3.15 metres long, the Aquarium Principal Scientist Gopakumar said. "The species which can grow upto 20 metre long and weigh up to 20 tonnes when full-grown normally scan 2500 metres depth in the sea. At birth, it is on an average 50 cm long. The one we kept here must have found it difficult to survive for long in the aquarium tank," he said. It is called whale shark because its head-region resembles that of a whale, he said. International Union for Conservation of Natural Resources (IUCNR) has listed it as "vulnerable" due to its fast dwindling population.



Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, Japan.
UCHIDA, S.;TODA, M;KAMEI, Y.;TERUYA, H. Okinawa Expo Aquarium, Okinawa, 905-0206 Japan The husbandry of 16 whale sharks Rhincodon typus, from 1980 to 1998 at the Okinawa expo aquarium From 1980 to 1998 16 whale sharks, Rhincodon typus , were kept in captivity at Okinawa Expo Aquarium, Okinawa, Japan. They were captured around Okinawa Is. by set-nets the center of which is located at 2623N, 12741E from March to September. The sea water temperature of the time captured were 21.1 to 29.0C at the depth of 20 m. Only two of 16 sharks were females and 14 were males, The mean value and range in total length and body mass were 4.8 m and 3.1 to 6.3 m, and 814 kg and 290 to 1750 kg respectively. They were kept in the Kurosio tank which is 27 m long, 12 m wide and 3.5 m deep 1,100 m3 in volume. Water parameters of the tank in mean and range were as follows : Water temperature(C) was 24.6 and 19.8 to 29.6, ph 8.2 and 7.9 to 8.35, and salinity (o/oo) 35.79 and 33.04 to 37.36. Mean and range of survival time in the tank were 502 days and 3 to 2056 days (ca. 5y 8m). The Whale sharks were fed on Euphausia pacifica, E. superba, Sergia lucens, Loligo japonica and Spratelloides gracilis once a day 6 days week. Mean feeding rates (food quantity / body mass / week x 100) of a 3.65 m female were 11.0 % in the first year of keeping, 8.5 % in the second year and 8.0 % in the third year. Mean growth per year of this shark was 29.5 cm in total length ( survival time : 2056 days) , 4.5 m male shark 21.6 cm (1040 days) and 4.85 m male 25.5 cm (458 days) respectively. Feeding and other behaviors in tank are reported.
Update Sep 2012 by Filipe Pereira.
Three whale sharks are kept in their 7500 tons Kuroshio Sea exhibit, together with six manta rays and thousands of other tropical pelagic fish. This aquarium is still the one holding the World Record for whale shark long term exhibition. A specimen now nearly 8 m long) has been living in the aquarium for more than 10 years. The aquarium also has an ocean pen offshore where other specimens are kept on rotation. The aquarium organizes group tours to the ocean pen so that people can swim with the whale sharks kept there.

    >10 yr for now 8m long male

Whale Sharks in Okinawa Bay.
Thanks to Ollie Lloyd for text and photo.
500 feet off the Okinawa Bay, the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium keep an open water netted enclosure of 30m diameter and 20m depth housing juvenile and grown whale sharks. The sharks kept in the nets are from the Aquarium's rotation system, where the sharks are moved to the nets when they have had a suitable amount of time living at the aquarium and then are eventually moved back, much like a resort or spa. New whale sharks captured for the aquarium are also living in the nets. The aquarium company offers free diving with the Whale Sharks within the nets.


Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN, Japan
Have successfully kept whale sharks for a number of years under the guidance of Director Uchida and other staff of the Okinawa Expo Aquarium. Nishida (2001) gives a detailed account. Kitafuji and Yamamoto (1998) reported that a 4.07 m TL female grew 2.36 m in 1825 days or 45.2 cm/yr. Presently they hold one whale shark in their 5.4 million liter tank (Filipe Pereira personal communication, 2007).

4.07 F 5 yr
July 2008

Osaka Aquarium KAIYUKAN, Japan
This institution added two whale sharks to its "Pacific Ocean" 5.4 million-litter exhibit. The two new residents measure 4.23 and 4.5 meters long and are now the major attractions of the Kaiyukan Aquarim. No information about the sex of the two specimens. (Filipe Pereira personal communication, July 2008).
Update Sep 2012 by Filipe Pereira.
The second largest aquarium in Japan exhibits currently a female whale shark named "Yuchan" in its Pacific Ocean tank (5400 tons of water). Other tank mates are a manta ray, a devil ray, scalloped hammerhead sharks and hundreds of pelagic fish from the Pacific Ocean.


4.23 & 4.5    
June 2005

National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Ping TungTaiwan
Three whale sharks were on exhibit since June 2005 after two failed attempts to exhibit the species. The first successful capture was a female named "Cha-cha" (= success success) with the peculiarity of no first dorsal fin, perhaps stolen by fishermen or eaten by a tigershark. She came to the aquarium measuring ~4.2 meters total length. "Cha-Cha" was released on March 7, 2007, after three years of successful husbandry. The specimen was 5.2 m TL at release and weighed more than 1000 kg. Thanks to Filipe Pereira for update and photo.

5.2   3 yr

National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium, Ping TungTaiwan
For several years they have displayed whale sharks in their Ocean Tank, including a time when three specimens were kept in the exhibit. Mre recently (2012), they've tried once more to add a whale shark to the collection, and there's a single specimen currently on exhibit. There are no data about it, but it swims in the large hexagonal tank together with bowmouth guitarfish, tunas, jacks, stingrays and nurse sharks, among other tropical pelagic fish. Thanks to Filipe Pereira for update and photo.


Georgia Aquarium, USA
Two males (Nortan and Ralph) about 4 m long and weighing about 500 kg each were transported by airplane from Taiwan to Atlanta, Georgia USA on June 6, 2005 after being caught be local fishermane and kept in Hualien for months. Two female whale sharks (Alice and Trixie) arrived in 2006. One of the males caught in 2005 (Ralph, now 6.7 m long) died in Janurary 2007. (Thanks to Andy Johns for URL). CNN.com: Aquarium looks for answers in whale shark death.
Updates provided by Filipe Pereira:
On 01 June 2007, two male whale sharks, "Yuchan" and "Taroko" (approximately 13 (~4 m) and 14 feet (~4.3 m) TL, respectively), were flown from Taiwan to Atlanta's Georgia Aquarium to join Norton (M), Alice (F)and Trixie (F) in the 6.2 million gallon Ocean Voyager Exhibit. The names given to the specimens were decided among Taiwanese fishermen, who have been colaborating with the aquarium's staff since 2005, and are meant to be a gift for recognition of their work.
On 13 June 2007, a second whale shark died at the Ocean Voyager exhibit (Norton, the other specimen brought to Atlanta in June 2005). Norton's death might be related to the same problem that affected Ralph, caused by the special treatment of the water in the 6.2 million gallon tank. Apparently, it has lead to a progressive loss of appetite in both animals, forcing staff members to feed them artifficially through a PVC tube which might have damaged their stomachs, the apparent cause of death.
Update Sept 2012:
Four specimens are still on display in the 6 million-gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit, which is still the largest fish tank in the whole world. The animals were flown from Taiwan between 2005 and 2007 and are apparently healthy and growing. Other tank mates are four manta rays, a devil ray, sandtiger sharks, zebra sharks, sandbar sharks, wobbegong sharks, blacktip reef sharks, stingrays, eagle rays, and about 100.000 fish from different species.

~4 M ~ 7yr
Atlantis, The Palm (Dubai):
A 4-meter long juvenile whale shark was found stranded in a shallow water laggoon off the coast of Dubai in the Summer of 2008. Water temp was 37-38C and salinity of 47ppt chloride. Swimming was very labored. She was transferred to the aquarium which is 11 million liters. Water temp is maintained during the summer months at 23C and salinity is ambient for the region at 39-40ppt. She was emaciated on arrival and started eating after 16 days. Currently being fed a mixture of 50% E. superba and E. pacifica plus multiple vitamins. She has grown to 4.30 m over the last 13 months and is doing well (as of Oct 2009) .Thanks to Steve Kaiser and Filipe Pereira for information and photo.
4.3 F > 1 yr
Aquaplanet (South Korea)
This huge aquarium opened recently and became Asia's largest aquarium. It holds a total of 10.800 tons of water. The main attraction is the Ocean Tank (25 m long, 23 m wide and 8.5 m deep) where the aquarium had two juvenile whale sharks, which were caught by local fishermen and brought to the aquarium. A few days after the aquarium opened, one of the animals died. According to staff, the cause was stress from the capture and transportation. Conservationists from all over the world were shocked with this situation, saying that the aquarium had no preparation at all to keep these large creatures. The aquarium director publicly apologized that they actually had not conducted any rigorous studies for the exhibition of whale sharks, and said that they'll release the second animal back into the ocean in order to avoid another loss. Thanks to Filipe Pereira for update.
Rt_images/Dalian_Aquarium2.pngJune 2009 Dalian Aquarium (China)
In June 2009, the Chinese aquarium in Dalian brought a juvenile 4-meter-long female whale shark to its main tank, hexagonal in shape and with several columns inside. According to the aquarium's staff, the young specimen stayed in the exhibit for almost 3 years, but there's little information about it on the web. Thanks to Filipe Pereira for information and photo
Hakkeijima Aquarium (Japan)
The Sea Paradise in Hakkeijima is one of Japan's largest aquariums and recently added to their vast collection of sea creatures two whale sharks in the dolphin show pool, allowing visitors to see the animals both underwater and from the stands around the pool, including during the dolphins' performance. The aquarium's number of visitors has increased significantly since the arrival of the whale sharks.
Rt_images/Yantai_Aq1.png2011 Yantai Aquarium (China)
Opened to the public a year ago, in September 2011, the Yantai Whale Shark Museum was involved in a controversy because it displayed a group of five young whale sharks in a tank that was only 88 ft (~27 m) long and 52 ft 9~16m ) wide, which conservationists considered to be too small for such a large number of the world's largest fish. 



Photograph Aquarium and Details TL (m)
M (kg)
Sex Time in captivity

Created April 2002, revised September 2012. Back to previous page
Please send comments or corrections to henry@elasmollet.org