It’s been a long 13 years since we were given the Pixar masterpiece Finding Nemo and on Friday, June 17, the highly anticipated sequel, Finding Dory, finally hits theaters. The original whimsical sea creature crew — adventurous Nemo and his overprotective father Marlin, along with the tubular sea turtle dad Crush and his son Squirt — all return to help find forgetful Dory after she sets off to find her own parents. Along the way, Dory meets many new faces of sea life who help her on her journey, including a clumsy whale shark named Destiny. So, what is a whale shark and what are they like in their natural habitat? The animated creature isn't a whale or a mammal, it's actually the largest fish that exists in the ocean.
Destiny — voiced by Kaitlin Olsen from Always Sunny in Philadelphia — is a kind and eccentric whale shark who buddies up with Dory at the Marine Life Institute after Dory gets dropped in Destiny's tank. They bond over their shared lack of grace and ability to speak whale. In the movie, Destiny swims clumsily due to her poor eyesight. In the ocean, however, a whale shark actually has some pretty impressive eyesight considering its tiny eyes (the size of a golf ball) compared to its very large body, which can reach 40 feet in length.
According to National Geographic, whale sharks don’t have eyelids, but can close them by rotating them and even drawing them back into its head for protection. Experts believe the giant creature can see fairly well in the darkness from a unique mirror feature behind their retina that can increase their sensitivity to low-light environments, very similar to a house cat.
Even though whale sharks are massive in size, they are very docile — generally feed on plankton. Some swimmers have even been able to hold on and hitch a ride with the gentle giant.
Whale sharks can be found in all tropical seas, as they prefer warm waters, and continue to be hunted in parts of Asia, such as the Philippines, despite their decreasing population and vulnerable species status. They are highly valued internationally for their meat, fins, and oil.
They tend to gather in areas with an abundance of plankton, which can make them a prime tourist attraction. The high levels of tourism can interrupt their feeding and they can often be injured by boat propellers. But, where the whale sharks are indicates there is a presence of plankton, which also indicates the overall health of the oceans.
Some fans have pointed out that Destiny shouldn't speak whale because she isn't actually a whale, but most fans are more than excited for the giant creature's debut in the animated film. Destiny's friendship with Dory is just one thing to look forward to, but we can also hope the move will increase awareness for this threatened and very beautiful species.