Save the whale sharks by swimming with them is the message being delivered by shark conservationists around the world – ecotourism wants to boost local economies and promote whale shark conservation. Isla Mujeres is home to the largest concentration of whale sharks – the largest fish in the world – and you can join in the 11th Annual Whale Shark Festival in July 2018
Get ready! The Whale Shark Festival is coming!
The festival will be held in Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico. It’ll showcase traditional dances, local cuisine, and works from local artisans. There’s a fair, photography exhibitions, sand culture competitions, conferences, documentaries, and workshops. Children will be able to take part in drawing and costume contests. You’ll be able to participate in sport fishing, diving and snorkelling tours of the reefs, and most importantly swimming with the whale sharks.
The Whale Shark Festival is all about raising awareness to preserve the region’s marine ecosystem –which forms part of the second largest barrier reef on the planet. It’s also the migratory path of whale sharks, sea turtles, and game fishes. Sustainable eco-tourism is the only way to keep the indigenous culture and way of life of Isla Mujures – working with the islanders to help promote environmental preservation and the economy.
Getting to Isla Mujeres
To get into Mexico you’ll need a valid passport, Mexican Tourist Card, and Customs form which you’ll be given at the airport when you check in. The Ultra Mar ferry located at Gran Puerto leaves every half hour – you’ll be able to get an airport shuttle, a public taxi, a bus, or hire a private van. The other dock is Puerto Juarez and there are several express services currently serving the island.
All about Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are fish and can dive to great depths – feeding on plankton that they filter from the water through their fine mesh of tiny teeth – attracting them to warm waters where large concentrations of the food source are found. They’re regarded as highly migratory and return yearly to the Yucatan peninsula to feed and mate. These seasonal gatherings are regular – reaching the largest numbers between June and September – more than 400 whale sharks were spotted off the coast in 2011.
They can grow up to 12 metres long and weigh more than 20 tons and are truly beautiful in appearance. Their grey and white bodies are covered with a pattern of pale yellow bars and spots – then pattern of spots around the gills is unique to each individual – just like a fingerprint. The skeleton is not built of bones but entirely of cartilage.
The sharks become sexually mature at about 30 years of age – and it’s been estimated that they can live from 70 to 100 years old. Female sharks produce eggs which hatch inside unlike most fish – and then give birth to about 300 baby sharks. Whale sharks are gentle and intelligent making them ideal swimming partners as they don’t present any danger to divers.
Swim with the Gentle Giants
Whale Shark tours Mexico are a real adventure – and you can take part in them with a team from Koox Diving. Your day will start at 5am where you’ll be met and taken in a van to Cancun. Then you’ll head in a boat towards the special location near Isla Mujeres. The trip will take about two hours and your instructors will discuss and plan the swim with you. They’ll acquaint you with the snorkelling gear and tell you all about the whale sharks – so all you have to do is admire and enjoy.
The Koox Diving team will take care of everything for you. You’ll be given all the scuba gear and equipment needed and prices include transportation costs. Your diving guide will be friendly and patient – but also very strict on safety procedures. To make sure your swim with the whale sharks is exciting and safe you need to follow instructions and:
- Get into the water gently and quietly – enter the water by sliding in slowly feet first and keep your fins under the surface of the water
- Don’t touch, ride, or chase after the whale sharks – if whale sharks are touched they’ll get stressed and dive
- Don’t block the whale sharks path – if the whale shark comes directly towards you remain calm and split into groups
- Stay at least 3m away from the head of the whale shark – and 4m from the tail – approach the whale shark from the side near its pectoral fins
- Don’t use any flash photography – this will scare and stress the whale shark, especially its eyes
- Make sure any sun cream or toiletries worn are bio-degradable – scented products can irritate the whale sharks eyes
- Wear a life jacket – you’re not allowed in the water without one