In fact, if I got a dollar for every time that question was asked, I would be able to pay for graduate school easy peasy. Sadly, I don't charge for questions so that is an untapped opportunity...
I will start by saying this: the whale shark is not a mammal, but a very, very, very massive fish. I'm talking about the largest confirmed individual was 12.65 m long (41.50 ft) and weighed in at more than 21.5 metric tons (47,000 lbs) and there are other reports of even larger specimens. They get big (you can see the a snorkeler in the picture on the left, above the dorsal fin, and how small this average-sized person is).
But, you don't have to worry about this fish chasing after you for a quick snack. They are rather slow, and are the third filter-feeder featured at Sarasota Fins. It is the sole member of the genus Rhincodon and the family, Rhincodontidae.
Generally a solitary animal, there are seasonal feeding aggregations in several parts of the world:
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In March 2009, marine scientists in the Philippines stumbled upon what is believed to be the smallest whale shark ever seen. It was only 38 cm (15 in) and was tied to a stake in Pilar; the scientists released it into the wild. Because of this discovery, many believe this area is a pupping ground, as young whale sharks and pregnant females have been seen in the waters of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.
Speaking of juveniles, there has never been observed mating or pupping in whale sharks. A pregnant female was caught in July 1996, and she indicated that these sharks are ovoviviparous. These animals do not get sexually mature until around age 30, with their life span being estimated to being at least 100 years old.
"How does one tell the age of a shark?"
People can determine the age by counting the growth rings of its vertebrae (the backbones).
Due to their large size, these animals are currently big money for the shark fin black market. Their fins can reach up to $1 million each, and that's a handsome paycheck people are willing to kill for. They have been increasingly targeted, as such, even though they are considered "Vulnerable" by the IUCN. It is also listed under the CMS Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks. In 1998, the Philippines banned all fishing, selling, importing, and exporting of whale sharks for commercial purposes, followed by India in May 2001, and Taiwan in May 2007. Even with all this in place, they are still sought out in Asia, such as Taiwan and the Philippines, as many local fishermen are not aware of these protections... and if they are aware, they don't care.