Mexico provides a rare opportunity that's hard to pass up: swimming with whale sharks! I strongly recommend you seize this chance when you're in the country.
During my trip in June 2023, swimming with these gentle giants easily became one of my top life moments!
While it's an awe-inspiring adventure, there are some things you should be aware of. Before diving in, I had my share of concerns. So, I've compiled and addressed the common questions and hesitations I encountered while planning this experience.
Here is my first encounter with these majestic animals:
Are whale sharks dangerous?
While they have a mouth spanning up to 5 feet wide and possess around 300 small, raspy teeth arranged in three rows, they primarily consume plankton and occasional small fish. Hence, they pose no threat to humans.
Where can I swim with whale sharks in Mexico?
The most popular places in Mexico to swim with these gentle giants are around the Yucatan Peninsula, particularly in Isla Holbox and Isla Mujeres.
Whale shark season typically runs from June to mid-September. During these months, hundreds of whale sharks migrate to the warm waters off the Yucatan coast to feed on plankton.
Why the name "whale shark"?
The term "whale shark" originates from its massive size, comparable to whales, and its filter-feeding habit, reminiscent of baleen whales like the humpback. Despite these similarities, their structure comprises cartilage, not bone, classifying them as genuine sharks. Notably, the whale shark holds the title as the largest living shark.
How large do whale sharks get in Mexico?
Whale sharks, recognized as the ocean's largest fish, can reach lengths exceeding 50 feet (around 15m). Despite their immense size, they're often referred to as the ocean's 'gentle giants' due to their peaceful nature.
Why do whale sharks pass Mexico?
Whale sharks are drawn to these waters due to the rich concentration of plankton, their main food. The region's strong winds cluster plankton in various bays along the Baja coast, offering a plentiful feast for these majestic creatures.
Can whale sharks bite?
Whale sharks, being filter feeders, don't bite or chew. Instead, they sift over 6,000 liters of water hourly through their gills to feed.
Could a whale shark swallow a human?
No, it's physically impossible for a whale shark to swallow a human. Despite their massive mouths, their throats are surprisingly narrow, roughly the size of a human fist. So, if someone ever ended up in a whale shark's mouth, they'd likely be pushed right back out.
Is it safe to swim alongside a whale shark?
Yes, swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks is safe for both humans and the sharks. These gentle giants are filter feeders that consume tiny plankton and don't have teeth suited for biting. They've never shown aggressive behavior towards humans, allowing snorkelers to watch them from a close range.
Can I touch a whale shark?
While it's an incredible experience to swim near a whale shark, it's important not to touch them. Touching can harm their protective mucus layer, which guards against bacteria and parasites. Additionally, physical contact can alter their natural behavior and induce stress.
Respect this incredible opportunity you have been given! Whale sharks, currently an endangered species with dwindling numbers, are a rare sight. It's truly a privilege to witness these gentle giants up close. If you're fortunate enough to experience this, please adhere to the following guidelines:
Keep Your Distance: Always respect their space.
Hands Off: Refrain from touching them.
Mind Your Flash: When snapping photos, ensure your flash is off to prevent disturbing them.
Stay Composed: Move deliberately and without splashing. It's vital to remain calm and not disrupt their natural movements.
Due to its growing popularity, there's been an emphasis on making the experience sustainable and minimally intrusive for the animals. Many tours are led by knowledgeable guides who educate participants about the importance of whale shark conservation.
Always choose a responsible tour operator who follows the guidelines and emphasizes the safety and well-being of the whale sharks. This not only ensures a respectful encounter but also contributes to the conservation efforts of these incredible creatures.