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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
Helicona Erato
Cozumel Butterfly Sanctuary Tour & PalMar Beach Club
Whale Shark
Whale Shark Snorkel Adventure from Cancun
Your own private beach!
PalMar's SMALL Snorkel Beach Club

Cozumel Butterfly Sanctuary Tour & PalMar Beach Club
Personal Experiences
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My daughter, 13 did the dolphin swim and it was the best time of her life.. up close and personal with scarlet.. the pictures were beautiful and the video wonderful.. this was a once in a life time event that she will remember for her entire life... well worth the 99.00 and the additional 75.00 for pics and video coverage.. if you can afford to do this, this is not to be missed.. it was the highlight of the entire vacation... go and have fun, well worth the cost and a lot of fun to be had. WONDERFUL TIME....
Monica Beach and katie Richards Monica Beach ~ Ocala, Florida

Sherri ~ I just wanted to pass along a huge THANK YOU for the dolphin excursion I booked through you in Cozumel for last Wednesday. The experience was something I will remember for a lifetime. Besides my friend and myself, there were only two other participants in our group so the dolphin trainer gave us extra time in the water. GREAT PICTURES were taken of the whole experience!!!!!!! Actually, a few people I spoke to when I got back on the cruise ship booked their excursion through Carnival directly and paid more $$$$ for less time in the water with the dolphins ( no swim, push off, etc). Again, thank you for everything....... D Garrett ~ not given

WOW!!!! So glad to have stumbled upon Cozumel Insider and found Sherri and PalMar Small Beach Club. Personable, responsive, tailored, every whim satisfied- from drinks to beach chairs, to the best guacamole ever made, to wonderful conversation with Sherri and staff. This service is simply not found at larger tourist beaches and clubs. We are now loyal guests and will return and return and return. Sherri's story is most intriguing and it was entertaining and awe-inspiring to hear her tell it. Our only regret is that our RC cruise ship was departing and we had to head back to port much sooner than we wanted to.
Martin- you are AWESOME! thanks for the photos you emailed and all the coordination leading up to our verbs short visit. We know you didn't have to do that- but it matters and have made us fans for life. Love you guys! John and "Countess LuAnn" ~ Pennsylvania, USA

We just got back from Cozumel last week and I'd like to thank you for answering all my questions and for setting us up on the Fury Snorkeling & Beach Party Tour and the van from Budget. This was the 4th time visiting the island and the 1st time that I didn't have the first bit of trouble with booking something online. Your service was great and I will be sure and book with you on my next trip. Thanks again! Danny Neal ~ Marshall TX

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

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