Diving with Whale Sharks
There are over 400 species of shark in seas and oceans of the world, from the 8-inch-long dwarf lantern shark, to the largest of them all, the whale shark.
Whale sharks are filter feeding carpet sharks and are the largest known species of fish, the largest ever recorded whale shark was measured at over 40 ft long.
Although whale sharks are the biggest of all sharks they’re actually docile, graceful, gentle giants and getting an opportunity to dive with them, is on many a divers bucket list
What’s a Whale Shark (aka: Rhincondon typus)?
National Geographic scientists who track whale sharks say that populations are declining throughout the world, a sad statistic for a creature that lives to be as old as humans (70 years, on average).
Whale sharks are not predatory hunters, they do eat meat however they are predominantly filter feeders and feed upon krill, small squid, and small fish. They have around 3,000 tiny teeth, but they don’t use any of them when they eat.
It’s easy to differentiate whale sharks from other sharks due to their size and shape, a flat head, blunt nose over a square, formidable jaw. Their “skin” tones range from brown to grey and usually feature a mix of white stripes and spots.
Whale sharks are relatively docile, and this as well as their size and grace are some of the reasons why divers and snorkelers alike look forward to encounters with them.
Regions of the world best known for healthy populations whale sharks are Australia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Maldives, Mexico and Belize.
Where and When to see Whale Sharks
Luckily for divers, whale sharks can be seen all year round.
January and February: Mozambique, Tanzania, Philippines and Baja California.
March, April and May: Baja, Australia, Tanzania, Belize and Thailand.
June and July: Cozumel, Belize, Australia, Indonesia, Mozambique and Ecuador.
August and September: Cancun and Cozumel, Mozambique, Thailand and Ecuador.
October: Maldives, Mozambique, Thailand, Tanzania, Indonesia and Ecuador.
November and December: Baja, Maldives, Ecuador, Tanzania, Philippines and Mozambique.
Best places to see and dive
Knowing which countries to frequent for such opportunities only begins your destination search. These five hot spots are most likely to give you the thrill of a lifetime.
Holbox and Isla Contoy, Mexico
Mid-July through August are your best bets if you want to stay close to home by diving in either Isla Contoy or Holbox, Mexico, neighboring villages on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Rumor has it that international divers who spent summers off the coast of Africa heard through the diving grapevine that Holbox had become a popular place for these giants to gather. For some reason, they’ve moved slightly down the coast to Isla Contoy, but no matter which beach you choose, you won’t be disappointed.
Gladden Spit, Belize
Neighboring Belize has been working hard to present itself to the world as one of the trendiest and most affordable and nations in the Caribbean. A finger of land known as Plascencia (there’s a village of the same name) has also become an epicenter for whale sharks, especially during April and May full moons.
The Belize government treasures its visitors so if you go, with or without a tour guide, you’ll be expected to obey rigid rules, like no flash photography, so bring a camera that shoots in dense light if you plan to put your shot on the cover of your Christmas card.
In addition to being fairly easy to reach via domestic flights from the U.S. and Canada, Utila happens to be the only place on travel lists that promises whale shark sightings all year-round.
For divers who struggle with vacation schedules, this alone is a great benefit, but it’s important to know that you will have to focus your efforts on the north side of the island and in the deepest waters. Here’s a tip area guides are happy to share with you: If you spot seabirds and tuna flocking around bubbling waters, guess what’s probably lurking under the surface?
Honda Bay, Palawan, Philippines
Once upon a time, tourists eager to swim with whale sharks frequented Donosol, however neighboring Palawan is quickly taking over in popularity. Dive guides are very helpful with visiting divers, providing rental gear if needed and getting visitors into the water seamlessly.
They’ll snap photos for you with the animals allowing you to fully enjoy the experience without having to worry about getting the perfect shot, but the pictures won’t do justice to the state you’re in once you emerge from your experience a changed person. There’s a big window of opportunity in this region: these sharks stick around from April through November.
Cabo San Sebastian, Mozambique
You’ll travel a long distance to get to Mozambique but it’s worth it. November and February to meet and greet the most impressive concentration of whale sharks in Africa.
Tour guides closely monitor areas off the coast that are home to gargantuan krill and plankton deposits. Since this buffet is the all-time favorite food of whale sharks, they congregate in the waters around Cabo San Sebastian.
Ready to pack your mask and trunks?
Of course, you are. But before you prepare to introduce yourself to these gentle giants, here are a couple of facts to keep in mind before your board that plane to your destination:
- August 30th is International Whale Shark Day, so remember to celebrate once you get out of the water.
- In 2013, an estimated 12,000 divers dove with whale sharks and each year and that number will likely increase, so book your dives in advance.
- Practice responsible shark tourism! Learn the rules: https://www.worldwildlife.org/blogs/good-nature-travel/posts/know-before-you-go-responsible-whale-shark-tourism-in-mexico.
- Whale sharks are solitary animals, because of their size and weight, their max travel speed is just 5 kilometers an hour, so outpacing them in the water could be easier than you imagined.
- The whale shark is one of only 3 types of shark filter feeders, the two others being the Basking Shark and the Mega Mouth shark
- Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, meaning the young are incubated in eggs which hatch inside of the mother, who then gives birth to a live, young whale shark.