The Biggest Fish in the Sea! Introducing.. Rhincodon typus!



Common Name – Whale Shark

Scientific Name - Rhincodon typus

    Rhincodon meaning "rasp tooth"

    typus meaning "type"

Kingdom – Metazoa                

Characteristics: Members of Metazoa, the Animal Kingdom, are multicellular

organisms. Animals are heterotrophs, meaning that they must consume other

organisms rather than having the ability to make their own food. Many animals

reproduce sexually, though not all. Unlike plant cells, animal cells do not have cell

walls because they have evolved other structures for support. Most animals are

mobile at some point in their life, contributing to their heterotrophic ways.


Phylum – Chordata                

Characteristics: The Chordates are characterized by structures such as the notochord

and their hollow nerve chord. The notochord is a flexible rod on the dorsal side of a

Chordate and is present at some point in the Chordate lifecycle. Chordates also differ

from other Phyla because of the presence of pharyngeal slits, which connect the

pharynx with the gills, for example. Chordates also have, at one point in their life, a

tail that extends beyond the anus. The chordates include animals such as humans

(you and I) along with other interesting organisms such as


Class – Chondrichthyes                

Characteristics: Members of this class are also known as cartilaginous fish because

their skeletons are made up of cartilage rather than bone. These fish have jaws and

paired fins, and also do not possess a swim bladder. These fish lack ribs making it

very dangerous for them to be out of the water. Most sharks in this class have

heterocercal tails which are tails with uneven lobes with one being higher and longer

than the other. Other interesting organisms within this class include stingrays,

Manta rays, and the Great White Shark!


Order – Orectolobiformes                

Characteristics: Members of this order are also known as carpet sharks because they

traditionally inhabit coral reefs. All members of this class exhibit mouths that are

located completely in front of their eyes. Orectolobiformes also lack spines on both

of their dorsal fins and have five pairs of gill slits. Unique to this Order also is the

presence of an anal fin.


Family – Rhincodontidae

Genus – Rhincodon

Species – typus                

Characteristics: Whale sharks are the only members of the family Rhincodontidae. 

To find out characteristics of this amazing fish, explore the rest of the website!

Classification Information found on the Animal Diversity Web! Check it out!


Interested in knowing how whale sharks fit in and compare with other animals of

the world? Take a look at the following Phylogenetic trees that show how Rhincodon

typus is related to other animals!

This first phylogenetic tree is of

the extant (living) shark orders!

Follow the tree up to the

Orectolobiformes and notice the

characteristics that set them apart

from other orders. The

characteristic specific to the order

of Rhincodon typus is the

presence of the mouth being well

in front of the eyes.




The phylogenetic tree pictured to the

right shows all of the Animal Phyla.

Whale sharks are a member of the

Chordata phylum. Some

characteristics special to the

and the closely related Echinoderms

are bilateral symmetry, three layers

of true tissues, and deuterostomal

development (meaning the mouth

forms second). Look above to see

characteristics exclusive to

Chordates! This tree gives a good

indication about where Chordates fall

in relation to all other animals!

Chordates are far from

Porifera in characteristics and adaptations. To learn more

about Porifera, here is a website all about sea sponges! Other organisms that differ

greatly from Chordates that are interesting to learn about include the Giant Pacific

, which is a member of the Mollusca Phylum! Even within the Chordates

exists a lot of variation. If you want to learn about some examples of this diversity,

check out these websites on the Moose, Ostrich, and Pygmy Rattlesnake! Enjoy


Continue? Learn about Habitat next!

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