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Guide to Responsible Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Whale sharks, the so called Gentle giants, are the biggest fish in our oceans. They have been an attraction for divers and snorkelers all over the world, due to their slow swimming and docile character. This is definitely one of the friendliest sharks you could ever meet. But unfortunately they are also on the IUCN Red List of endangered species. And it is up to us all, tour operators and visitors, to do what we can to conserve them, before it is too late.
Whale sharks are spectacular – the average whale shark is about 10 meters in length and weights 14-15 tons, some even reaching to 34 tons. Quite huge. They are considered to be among the most ancient species ever existed on the planet, even before the dinosaurs.
Despite their name, whale sharks are part of the shark family: Rhincodontidae, so they are more sharks than whales. They are cold blooded, not mammals. They only resemble whales in size and in feeding. Whale sharks have wide mouths with small baleen teeth they use to filter plankton. That’s why they can be seen close to the surface of the warmest tropical waters in the world: from Honduras to the Maldives.
Diving and Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
Source: Pitagoras Larque
Both diving and snorkeling are acceptable, but snorkeling may have some advantages over diving. Not just because it allows non-divers to get close to these marvelous creatures. Whale sharks in Mexico are usually swimming in shallow waters, so dive equipment is not required. Snorkelers, just wearing fins and masks move faster and easier than divers, due to the lack of heavy dive tanks and equipment.
When is the Best Time to Swim with Whale Sharks in Mexico?
Whale sharks are migratory creatures and can be found in different parts of the world at different times of the year. Whale shark season in Mexico is from mid May – June until mid September. This is exactly when it is the best time to swim with whale sharks. Most boats go early in the morning, at the break of dawn, as to reach the whale shark encounter spots, usually further in the open ocean, trying to avoid the gathering of too many boats at one spot.
If you are planning to swim with whale sharks in Mexico, it is recommended to book your tour at least 3-5 days in advance, especially during the peak season. This will ensure that you have the best chance of swimming with these magnificent creatures and will help to avoid disappointment.
It is important to note that the exact timing of the whale shark season can vary from year to year, and can be affected by weather patterns such as El Niño. It is always a good idea to check with us or the Mexican government’s official whale shark website for the latest information on the whale shark season.
Where to Go to See Whale Sharks in Mexico?
During the Whale Shark season, the gentle giants are abundant in waters around Cancun, Mexico: mainly Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox.
The most popular location to swim with whale sharks near Cancun is Isla Mujeres. It is at 20 mins ferry ride from Cancun, quite easily accessible. Most visitors enjoy its blue calm water beaches after swimming with whale sharks.
Isla Holbox is an eco island, with no motor vehicles allowed. Visitors leave their cars at the ferry port. When you are there, you immediately notice the difference: streets are white and sandy, birds and wildlife are everywhere. Whale shark tours start from Isla Holbox dock and goes in open ocean.
Here are some rules for responsible swimming with whale sharks that we should all follow:
Do not use sunscreen or any body lotions or oils before going in the water.
Wear a life jacket.
Jump in the water slowly and gently.
Keep noise to the minimum.
Follow your guide’s instructions.
Jumps are to be in small groups: 2 people at a time.
Keep your distance, swim at least at 5m/16ft from the whale shark.
Do not touch it.
Do not use a flashlight.
It’s the tour operators’ duty to instruct you how to swim with whale sharks properly and responsively, so you can fully enjoy your experience.
Whale sharks are endangered species. They are protected from fishing all around the world. As per 2016 data, there should be about 7,100 whale sharks in the ocean. Their unique patterns of white spots work as fingerprints. Marine biologists and scientists use this way to identify them.
Swimming with the biggest fish in the world is a marvelous experience. Seeing these wonderful creatures is definitely one of the ultimate bucket-list encounters. There’s one thing we all need to remember. Whale sharks are a natural treasure and we should all treat these gentle giants with due respect. Their conservation depends on us.
Other Ways You Can Help Protect Whale Sharks
Celebrate International Whale Shark Day! – on 30 August since 2012, the world is raising a glass of plankton to the biggest fish in the world. You can help raise awareness that these huge gentle giants are in fact as vulnerable as any form of marine life. They have been hunted by commercial fishermen for their highly prized fins and meat. Fortunately fishing them is forbidden now, but it is a fact that many whale sharks get injured and trapped in fishing nets and trawlers. The damage has already been done and their population is decreasing.
Adopt a whale shark – you can donate to a number of organizations today to support the global conservation efforts and receive a gift back. It is a perfect gift for ocean lovers and scuba divers. Most organizations use these funds to support the sustainable use of our oceans, fight against overfishing and pollution.
Go on a whale shark tour in Mexico for the experience of a lifetime. Seeing whale sharks in their natural habitat will definitely inspire the ocean lover in you, and make you more aware of their vulnerability and willing to help protect them.
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