Do you want to swim with Whale Sharks? Every summer, from May 15 until September 15, a marvelous event happens in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Hundreds of mostly juvenile male Whale Sharks migrate to feast on plankton and fish eggs, and, perhaps, to mate. Large females have been seen in the Yucatan, but they are not common. The best time to see these sharks is late June through mid August. This aggregation is one of the largest, if not the largest, known to scientists on the planet. With drone technology, scientists can watch the aggregation and behavior of the sharks from above, but it is always more exciting to be in the water with them!
Are Whale Sharks whales or sharks? They are sharks and the largest fish in the ocean. They have huge mouths like whales and they filter feed on the smallest creatures in the ocean. These huge sharks (up to 20 meters) are completely harmless. Whale Sharks are gentle giants, and do not attack even with provocation, which is why they are endangered. They are easy for poachers to kill as they have no fear of humans or boats, they seem almost oblivious to anything except their food. There is still very little known about Whale Sharks. No one has ever seen one give birth, though a whale shark caught in a fishery in Taiwan many years ago was carrying 300 pups. The only place where female Whale Sharks are known to gather are the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador (June through November). Where do they give birth? No one knows. Two thirds of the known Whale Sharks are male. Where are all the females? The babies? No one knows. Sadly, their docile nature has made them easy targets for those who sell shark fins to the Chinese. To lose these magnificent creatures to make stringy chicken soup is sickening.
I first snorkeled with Whale Sharks in Isla Holbox in the early 2000s. We went with another family, and the kids and adults were enamored and amazed by these incredible creatures. Since then, I have taken every opportunity to see them and photograph them. I have gone with my husband, alone, and on citizen science trips with Marine Megafauna. Every time I see them I photograph them, and I make sure to get identification photos. Whale Sharks have a spot pattern just behind their gills that serve as a “fingerprint”, no two sharks are alike. I send these photographs to Wildbook for Whale Sharks, and in so doing, I contribute to the scientific knowledge of these creatures. You can do citizen science as well! When you see a whale shark, photograph it from the side! This year I took my cousin and her husband for their very first encounter with whale sharks, and they were in awe. The sheer size of these animals is amazing, and to see them and snorkel with them is a very special and exciting experience. I recommend going with Solo Buceo, a great dive and snorkel shop in Cancun. I met one of the owners on a Great White Shark Expedition, and having a close encounter with a Great White is a bonding experience! Since 2010 and my Close Encounter with a Great White Shark, Rodrigo and I have been in touch, and on expeditions. Book Solo Buceo for an amazing experience with not only Whale Sharks, but Sailfish, Cenotes, and Mantas! Rodrigo is deeply involved with Pelagic Life, a non profit in Mexico seeking to protect oceanic pelagic animals, especially sharks.
In December of this year I am co-hosting a trip to the Sea of Cortez with Red Travel Mexico, and we will be snorkeling with Whale Sharks off of La Paz! Please consider coming with us, it will be an exciting trip! The dates are Dec 3-9 and you can get more details at http://redtravelmexico.com/tour/cabo-pulmo-and-the-sea-of-cortez-with-tam-warner-minton/.
Below you can see how individual Whale Shark’s spot patterns are.
*My passion for the ocean has resulted in my first self published book! ALL FISH FACES. Check it out!