Swimming with Whale Sharks, The giant of the sea

Filed under: Things to Do - by Isabella Biava

Have you ever seen this?…..The enormous whale sharks ( Rhincodon typus), as huge as a whale but nothing anywhere as dangerous as a shark. As the tamest giant animals on the planet, if you do happen to meet them while swimming in the pristine waters of the much-glorified Caribbean Sea, fear not, as they will be of no bother whtasoever!

Known as the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate by far, and reported to belong to a species which originated about 60 million years ago, these amazing beasts have an estimated lifespan of around 100 years.

Whale Sharks - Tiburones Ballenas

courtesy of Karma Trails DMC.


Among the peculiarities which distinguish these beautiful creatures is the way they feed, either by filtration, that is to say, they swim forward with their mouth open, gathering water and food into it; or by active suction feeding, in which the animal opens and closes its mouth, sucking in volumes of water which are subsequently expelled through the gills, an amazing show to anyone who may bear witness. Their teeth alas, have no purpose in the process.

Their ‘attire’ is also striking:  grey on top, a white belly, and skin which is marked with pale yellow spots and stripes, which are unique to each one.

They are also renowned for being solitary animals, so if  you do happen to catch sight of 4 or  5 beasts swimming and playing together, it is indeed a spectacular exhibition, and best of all, they are totally harmless, as they are unafraid of man; on the contrary, they sometimes even interact cheerfully with divers.

Whale Sharks - Tiburones Ballenas

courtesy of Karma Trails DMC.

The whale shark is found in the open waters of tropical oceans. They like to be in warm temperatures, as that is where they can find plankton, their main source of nutrition. They have been found in many different parts of the world: South Africa, India, Indonesia, The Philippines and other areas, but the largest gatherings were noted in 2011, right here, off the coasts of our Yucatan Peninsula, with an overall aggregation of 400 whale sharks.

From May to September, they normally appear somewhere in between Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres. As they don’t approach the shore, it would be very unrealistic to find a whale shark while swimming off your beach. However, ecotourism has been created around those huge, attractive animals, and fishermen have joined forces with tour operators to take visitors to participate in this exciting encounter.

Unfortunately, and rather sadly,  what was termed “ecotourism” has grown rapidly to an unsustainable level, thus becoming somewhat less ‘’eco’’ – a controversial subject which is worth alluding to, although we won’t delve too much into this theme for the moment.

We wholeheartedly encourage you to experience this amazing encounter at least once in your life, and you can be sure that the concierge at your hotel will be happy to book you on a tour, being that it is, in fact, one of the few excursions that you are unable to on your own, for two simple reasons:

Whale Sharks - Tiburones Ballenas

courtesy of Karma Trails DMC.

  • Their whereabouts –  they tend to be found in the channel between Holbox and Isla Mujeres, but captains and fishermen are the ones who know exactly where to find them on a given day.
  • Limited number of vessels – although often difficult to control, in an attempt to protect this endangered species the authorities are limiting the number of visitors per day.  When too many vessels congregate in the area they bring a large concentration of pollution and provoke disturbance to the docile animal. Furthermore, visitors are less able to appreciate the experience in an overcrowded environment.

There are many ways to pay them a visit, depending on where you are staying. The most popular means is often from Holbox, a beautiful island where time seemed to come to a standstill a few decades ago. Well worth a couple of nights’ stay, you can find many tried, trusted and experienced operators here, who will organise the 1-day excursion by “lancha” (small fishing boat) to meet the whale sharks.

The trip may also be arranged from Isla mujeres and Cancun . All excursions include lunch on the boat with a delicious ceviche  and totopos (local snacks). Tours from Cancun will make a stop on the way back, off the shore of the beautiful Playa Norte in Isla Mujeres.

If you are staying in Playa del Carmen, you will be provided land transportation to Cancun (1-hour drive approx) where you will board your boat.

A fun-filled day is guaranteed, as well as an experience that will stick out among even your sweetest of memories.

Stay with us: we have everything set up for your unforgettable trip to see these amazing creatures!

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