The Whale Shark Experience

Are whale sharks whales?  Are they sharks?  No to both of these questions—whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean!   And, I do mean BIG – average whale shark has a length of 40 feet and weighs 11 tons.  I encourage you to try the whale shark experience!

The Gulf waters around Holbox, Isla Contoy, and Isla Mujeres are summer homes to these gentle giants.  Each year the whale shark migrates to these warm waters to feed on plankton and tuna spawn.  I have had the pleasure of snorkeling with these animals three different times–each time more exciting than the previous one.  The first two whale shark adventures began on the tiny island of Holbox, and the third trip was out of Cancun venturing to Isla Contoy.  These trips are conducted by licensened tour guides and most boats can hold up to 10 people, a divemaster, and of course, the boat captain.  As the boat captain steers toward an oncoming whale shark, two snorkelers and the divemaster jump into the water and swim along–this may be up to ten minutes–they return to the boat, then the next two snorkelers and the dive master repeat these totally awesome moments.  Each person may go into the water 3-5 times.  My experience on the Isla Contoy trip was pretty overwhelming.  It was after a recent storm and over 70 whale sharks were in the area…and they were BIG.  As I swam along side, I had a good look at the creature’s eye–it was bigger than my whole face!  It is my understanding that there are now more whale sharks that gather near Isla Contoy than Holbox, but check with the tour providers which area is best for the month you would like to try.

Tour companies adhere to the standards set by the Mexican government, and this includes: no jet skis in the area, no diving, no touching the whale shark, no camera flash, use biodegradable sunblock, and always keep 3 feet away from the whale shark’s body and at least 10 feet from its tail.  Whale shark “season” begins in May and ends in September with the most aggregations occurring in July and August.

The whale sharks of the world are on the WWF conservation animal list categorized as vunerable–a species considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.  For this reason it is important to engage a highly knowledgeable and experienced tour company that operates their tours with the utmost priority to respect these amazing creatures.  Tour boat operators are trained in the movements of the whale shark to avoid any boat collisions.  This swimming with whale sharks has gained  extreme popularity, so Mexican authorities have limited the number of authorized boats.  It is best to make advanced reservations.  Tour companies may be found on line by typing in Whale Sharks Mexico for specifics regarding times and rates.  (Many tour companies offer a discount if you book on line).  Also at this site you will find recomendations from TripAdvisor contributors as well as information about how to arrange a private tour.  I would also suggest you check with one of our local Akumal dive shops for recommendations.  In addition to information about tour companies, the Whale Shark Mexico site is filled with info about these splendid marine giants that is a bit more scientific and makes for involved reading…like learning that no two whale sharks are alike–the spots on their backs are as distinctive as finger prints.

If you are looking for something different to do on your vacation, you can’t beat swimming with the whale sharks–and listing this adventure on your completed bucket list is going to provide memories that last a lifeti


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