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All About Whale Sharks

Whale SharkWhale SharkWhale Shark
Cozumel is not considered “home” to whale sharks (Rhincondon typus), but each year like clockwork, the largest fish in the world does swim the channel between the island and mainland Mexico to gather together for several months of feeding at locations just hours away. Even though the ancestry of this shark goes back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods 245-65 million years ago when the present groups of sharks began to appear, it was not until 1828 when the first whale shark specimen known to science was discovered off the South African coast. Later that year, a Dr. Andrew Smith formally described this species as the largest living shark in the ocean.
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Biology
Whale SharkEven though whale sharks can grow in size up to 50 feet long and can weigh in at nearly 12 tons, they are known as the “gentle giants” of the sea because of their docile, slow moving nature. Whale sharks have multiple rows of small teeth on each jaw (over 3000 total) but do not use them for feeding. In fact, they are filter feeders and feed mainly on plankton, tiny shrimp and small fish. Whale sharks have five gill slits on each side of their body. These slits are equipped with very fine gill rakers that strain small planktonic organisms (as small as 1mm or 1/27th inch) out of the water. They spend most of their time cruising near the ocean’s surface with their large mouths agape or by hanging vertically. These positions allow the whale sharks to engulf large volumes of water, then expel and strain it through their sieve-like gills. Whale sharks also have a line of sensory pores that run between the second and third lateral ridges along their body which allow them to detect low-level vibrations. Larger pores (known as ampulle of Lorenzini) located around the shark’s head make up an electromagnetic sensory system that is capable of detecting changes in magnetic fields as well as minute electrical currents generated by the movements of fish. Whale sharks have internal fertilization and produce live young. Males can be distinguished by the presence of two claspers near the pelvic fin. These organs are absent in females. A long term study done in Australia, established that male whale sharks do not usually mature before they reach a length of around 8-9m. However, similar external observation cannot determine female size at maturity. Although not known for certain, it is estimated that whale sharks do not reach sexual maturity for 30 years and live for anywhere between 60 (Martins & Knickle) and 100 years (Wintner, 2000). Also, at present, it is not known where whale sharks breed. Only one pregnant whale shark has ever been recorded. There have been very few juvenile whale sharks seen at any location throughout their range.
Distribution
Whale Shark Prior to the mid-1980's, there had been less than 350 confirmed reports of whale sharks worldwide. However, now there are several regions around the world, all located in tropical waters, which are known to have predictable whale shark visits including Australia, India, the Maldives, South Africa, Honduras, Belize, Mexico, the Galapagos Islands, Southeast Asia and Indonesia. Cozumel is fortunate to be located near 3 of these predictable sighting areas: Honduras, Belize and Holbox Island, Mexico. Whale Shark - According to the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences, whale sharks are seen quite frequently the early spring and late fall out in the deep waters near Roatan, Honduras which is south of Cozumel Island. The whale shark’s appearance there seems to coincide with the coral reef spawning around Roatan. During coral spawning, egg and sperm are simultaneously released into the water in mass quantities as a means of coral reproduction. Reasearchers believe the spawning of the coral triggers the growth of zooplankton populations in the water column. The surge in the food chain attracts these “gentle giants” to a bounty of food. - Known locally as "Sapodilla Tom" for the fisherman who first saw them near the Sapodilla Cayes on the southern end of the Belize Barrier Reef, whale sharks congregate at Gladden Spit every March to June. Here the whale sharks seem to feed on the spawn of aggregating snappers - the only place this has been documented and is known to occur worldwide. the months of April through July, Belize offers divers and snorkelers the unique opportunity for spotting the large pelagic feeder known as the Whale Shark. When in a playful mood, these gentle and curious creatures will hang around for long periods of time. If you are planning a Belize dive trip with whale sharks in mind, best time would be three days before the full moon to three days after the last quarter moon. It's during this period that Cubera Snappers spawn, attracting the Whale Sharks. April to June is also spawning season for many other species of fish and mating season for turtles. Island, Mexico - Holbox Island sits on the northwest tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and is a 4 – 6 hour trip from Cozumel depending on which route is taken (scenic or express). Known to Holbox fishermen as “dominos” for their distinct white spot markings, whale sharks can be seen here with certainty during , July and August each year. Attracted to shallow, plankton filled waters located within an hour’s boat ride of Holbox, whale sharks of all sizes arrive to fatten themselves in the calm, bay like waters. Although new to the whale shark conservation and observation programs, Holbox is tagging hundreds of new whale shark visitors each season and has limited its tour activities to SNORKEL only (no diving with whale sharks. Relatively slow moving animals, whale sharks are curious but docile. Often times whale sharks will readily approach boats, and snorkelers if they do not feel threatened. And they will often continue to remain close to snorkelers and even boats if not chased or harassed. Can YOU Interact With Whale Sharks While in Cozumel?? During June, July & August Cozumel visitors can participate in this once in a life time experience of swimming/snorkeling up close with whale sharks. Folks can go on their own All About Holbox & Getting There or simply fill out the online booking form here for a guided tour Take Me to Snorkel with Whale Sharks!
Conservation Note
Whale shark tourism all over the world is a highly lucrative industry based on an ecologically vulnerable species. Whale sharks’ sensitive nature, aggregation at specific times of the year, slow maturation rate (30 years to reach sexual maturity) and migratory behavior all make them susceptible to anthropogenic impacts (IUCN 2004). The IUCN classifies whale sharks as vulnerable based on past records of declining catches and abundance (Norman 2000). This evidence supports the need for low-impact activities at whale shark sites to promote sustainability of tourism long term.
PLEASE OBSERVE ALL CONSERVATION REGULATIONS STIPULATED WHILE INTERACTING WITH WHALE SHARKS!!

Sierra Club

Looking to be Up Close with Nature? Try Tthese Activities!
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 Cozumel Butterfly Sanctuary Tour & PalMar Beach Club
Visit Cozumel's only Butterfly Sanctuary! See multitudes of colors, learn about butterfly habits and the miracle of metamorphosis. Take photos and then stay to enjoy snorkeling and the other ammenities of the Beach Club. Great family fun & excellent value! US $13 Adults /US$8 Kids Educational Family Fun!
 Cozumel Dolphin Royal Swim Program
"Action" and "speed" pretty much describe this popular dolphin program! Get a handshake, a kiss and then you give them one. Feel the strength of your new friends as they push you across the water from the bottom of your feet in the thrilling foot-push. It is "the experience of a lifetime!" US$ 149/Adult / US$ 89 child
 Cozumel Atlantis Submarine Adventure
Dive to depths of 100 feet in a REAL submarine piloted by a professional and licensed crew and experience why Cozumel remains one of the top dive destinations in the world. $105/Adult, $65/Child
 Cancun - Rio Secreto Expedition
Dare to live a fantastic experience in one of the most incredible locations in the Riviera Maya that begins in the moment you arrive at the Natural Reserve. US$ 109.00 Adult / US$ 54.50 Kids
 Cancun - Sea Life Discovery Plus
Don't miss this magical experience of interacting with manatees, sea lions and dolphins! This activity has it all! An incredible learning experience for the entire family! US$ 189.00 Adult / US$ 129.00 Kids
 Cancun - Sian Ka'an Wilderness Adventure
Come to this adventure tour and visit “Sian Ka’an", the beautiful and impressive Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Sian Ka'an means 'Origin of the Sky' in the Maya language. Cross unspoiled wetlands by boat, watching how the ecosystems and colors change. US$ 159.00 Adult / US$ 111.30 Kids
 Isla Mujeres - Dolphin Encounter
"Isla Discovery Plus" Includes Dolphin Encounter, Sea Transportation R/T, Dock Fee, Lunch Buffet at location, National Open Bar, Fantasy Snorkel (stingrays and sharks), Bicycle tour, Isla Mujeres downtown tour. US$ 99.00 Adult /US$ 69.00 Kids
 PalMar's SMALL Snorkel Beach Club
Bring your group and spend the day at PalMar's small, private beach facility and enjoy a day of snorkeling at Cozumel's premier beach entry snorkel spot! No crowd here and gates close daily with a maximum of 50 people on site! US $13 Adults /US$8 Kids Includes FREE Beverages!
 Riviera Maya - Dolphin Swim Adventure
Share a series of sensational and safe activities while establishing a unique bond of trust. With a handshake, kiss and belly ride will enjoy moments of great spontaneity during your free time together. It is an unforgettable experience! US$ 119.00 Adults / US$ 89.00 Kids
 Riviera Maya - Rio Secreto Expedition
Dare to live a fantastic experience in one of the most incredible locations in the Riviera Maya! US$ 109.00 Adults / US$ 54.50 Kids
 Whale Shark Snorkel Adventure from Cancun
Boat leaves from Cancun - shorter trip ~ Unforgettable - spectacular whale shark snorkel experience! US$ 179 per person
 Cozumel Whale Shark Snorkel from Holbox
Spectacular day trip whale shark snorkel experience at Isla Holbox! Personal service from a professional guide who escorts guests the entire way from Cozumel to Holbox! US$ 210 per person

Riviera Maya - Rio Secreto Expedition
Whale Shark
Cozumel Whale Shark Snorkel from Holbox
Green Sea Turtle
Cozumel Atlantis Submarine Adventure

Cozumel Dolphin Royal Swim Program
Personal Experiences
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Thank you SO MUCH for all the valuable information! I know we are going to have a wonderful time. We will be in Cozumel until 12:00 midnight so I am sure we will have plenty of time to visit the places you have mentioned. I hate we will not have the pleasure of meeting you! You have been so helpful with everything! The company you work for if very fortunate to have an employee such as you! You are truly an asset to them! Thank you again for everything and I hope you have a wonderful day!
Sincerely,
Debbie Long :-) D. Long ~ Hampstead, NC

Wow! You have been so helpful Sherri! thank you so very much for taking the time in giving me so much details that would help me with the excursions! you are so sweet! if I have any other questions I will be sure to let you know. Thank you again for being so helpful! Have a blessed day! :) K. Shields ~ Little Rock, Arkansas USA

Hello, I want to let you know that I visit your website all the time! I love it, so much information. I used you as a resource when I came to Cozumel for the first time about 2 years ago. Although my soon-to-be wife was there before, I needed to do some of my own homework. As for her, she and I will be getting married on June 22 at Hotel Cozumel and we are both really excited about it. I am so happy that you are able to put this website together for people like us who love Cozumel and can't be there as much as we want to be. Thanks again! John DeMaio ~ Milford, CT, USA

My family and I have returned to Cozumel many times - it's a favorite destination and we have watched it change over the past 20 years. The Cozumel Insider is a great publication - it's a wonderful way to keep up with the news about one of our favorite islands. We are preparing to visit again this August and the Insider has shown us some different activities to try, as well as helped to bring us up to date with local political and ecological happenings. We're delighted to see the interest in wildlife conservation throughout the area. Keep up the good work on this terrific site. D. McClean ~ unknown

We spent a day @ your club while our ship was in port. What a wise choice ! The snorkeling was fantastic and your club was staffed by the warmest, kindest people that we met in Cozumel. Mauricio, Dn. Juan and your other staff made us feel comfortable and welcome . The food was delicious, the drinks great and the prices very reasonable. Juan almost sold us another stay right then and there. We will be back and have already posted our review on the web. Muchos Gracias ! V. Perry ~ Danbury, CT

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