Imagine watching a sleek dappled shape the size of a bus glide through the water in front of your boat peacefully sucking up water and the minute marine organisms it feeds on. Look around you and suddenly there are fins as far as the eye can see. Summer in the Mexican Caribbean is whale shark season and you are face to face with the largest fish in the world, a gentle giant that is one of the great ocean wanderers.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) inhabit the seas in tropical and subtropical regions and are known to congregate in a handful of areas around the globe including Ningaloo Reef in Australia, Fiji, the Maldives, Baja California, Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras. The whale shark gathering that takes place every year during the summer in the northern waters of the Mexican Caribbean is unique in the world in terms of its sheer scale. Scientists believe that as many as 1,400 of these gentle giants migrate through the area from mid-May to mid-September.
They are drawn to the area by food. The convergence of warm waters of the Caribbean and a nutrient-rich upwelling of colder water from the Gulf of Mexico in the zone of Holbox and Cabo Catoche provide the conditions for an extraordinary bloom of the plankton that the fish feeds on. Research has also shown that the whale sharks are partial to fish roe and the great numbers gathering in the Zona de Afuera, as the blue waters to the east of Contoy and Isla Mujeres are known, is due to the presence of billions of eggs spawned by the little tunny or bonito, and possibly by other species of fish. On August 11, 2009, 420 whale sharks were spotted feeding in this stretch of sea, by far the world’s largest aggregation.
Whale shark watching is a once in a lifetime experience and Thomas More Travelwww.thomasmoretravel.com offers guided eco trips for groups of up to 10 people (a minimum of six people is required). During your journey out to the feeding area, you’ll learn about whale sharks and the latest research and efforts to protect them. You may also be lucky enough to spot some of the other extraordinary marine creatures that inhabit the area such as sea turtles, dolphins, manta rays, spotted eagle and cownose rays, billfish, flying fish and a variety of seabirds.