Silky Smooth: Do Whale Sharks Have Scales?

do whale sharks have scales

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A question we are asked regularly here at MarinePatch is, do whale sharks have scales?

Technically, no, the whale shark does not have scales. However, they do have a hard exterior that is similar to scales. 

They are essentially specialized scales that are called placoid scales, also known as dermal denticles.

These scales look more like teeth than actual scales and help the whale shark decrease drag to ensure they can glide through the water effortlessly.

Whale sharks are the largest fish that inhabit our oceans and are simply breathtaking to witness up close.

These sharks are often thought to be whales because of their large size but are indeed species of shark.

Their scales are very unique and have some interesting benefits.

Let’s take a look…

What Type Of Scales Do Whale Sharks Have?

As mentioned above, the whale shark has V-shaped scales that are known as dermal denticles. 

These scales are also found on other sharks and help the shark stay streamlined so they can cut through the water easily.

The whale shark scales not only help them move quickly, but they are also great for protection and act as armor for the large shark.

This helps the whale shark move quickly through the ocean to catch up to plankton (their favorite food!)

Image by Mike Johnston

In fact, dermal denticles are so efficient in allowing sharks to swim through water that scientists are trying to replicate this and form a swimsuit that allows humans to benefit from dermal denticles too.

Dermal denticles are composed of a hard mineral called apatite which is embedded in a soft protein.

These scales are incredibly hard and strong and help the whale shark stay protected against blue marlins and blue sharks.

What Are Dermal Denticles?

The main function of dermal denticles is to serve as protection for sharks and rays. 

However, they also allow them to stay streamlined and reduce drag, ensuring they can cut through the ocean easily and effortlessly.

This allows them to swim very fast to keep up with prey or escape predators.

Dermal denticles have been compared to teeth, as they are similar in shape and are covered with hard enamel.

To the untrained eye, sharks and rays seem vulnerable as it looks as though they have a soft exterior that could be easily penetrated. 

But this scale-like protection is as hard as granite and keeps them protected from predators.

Do All Whale Sharks Have Scales?

All whale sharks have dermal denticles, which are a sort of specialized scale. As soon as pup whale sharks are born they have this protection.

This is needed to help protect them from predators, as when whale sharks are young they are much smaller and need as much protection as they can get.

As they grow older, these scales harden and become incredibly hard, giving the whale shark a chainmail armor that is as strong as steel.

That being said, sometimes denticles do fall off and can be found at the bottom of the ocean.

Image by Ben Thompson

Scientists can actually identify the species of shark that the denticles came from, allowing them to know what sharks are in the area.

These structures are packed tightly together and face backward on whale sharks. 

This means if you were to run your hand from tail to head you would feel the roughness and resistance, whereas if you were to run your hand from head to tail it would feel silky smooth.


To conclude, whale sharks don’t have scales like you would find on a fish. But they do have dermal denticles which act like scales.

This scale-like protection ensures that whale sharks are covered in protective armor to keep them safe from the few predators that may see them as food.

Not only that, but the denticles reduce drag and help keep whale sharks streamlined so they can swim through the ocean easily.

Hopefully, this post has answered your question and you now know a little more about whale shark scales and dermal denticles.

Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with others that may find it useful.