In the Mexican Caribbean Sea, you will have the chance to encounter the largest fish in the world, the whaleshark. It is harmless and very gentle. Easily recognizable with its unique pattern, the whaleshark is found in open seas and tropical, warm oceans. Whalesharks live offshore, near the coast. They can dive very deeply (>1,600 m) and tolerate temperatures as low as 3°C.
At the Riviera Maya we have the world’s largest migration of whale sharks, with over hundred sharks at the site on some days. Even manta rays come to feed on the plankton. It’s a unique experience that can be enjoyed with the whole family or friends!
GOOD TO KNOW
How to recognize it?
The belly of the whale shark is completely white, while its back is grey, darker than most sharks, with numerous light spots and horizontal and vertical lines of white or yellow colour forming a beautiful pattern. The skin of the whale shark, its mainly a protection, is tougher than some other species in the world. It has a layer of fat under the skin that can reach up to 15 cm thick and is covered in dermal denticles, each about 2 mm thick. Like fingerprints, the unique pattern of white spots on each whale shark allows an individual identification. A recent technique reported by Australian researcher Brad Norman enables the identification of whale sharks based on the exact positioning of their white spots. (B. Norman has established a website serving as a photo library and gathering identified individuals.)
The first dorsal fin has a triangular shape. In juveniles, the tip is rounded, but it becomes straighter and more angular with age. The second dorsal fin is smaller. The powerful pectoral fins are shaped like scythes. The caudal fin, commonly referred to as “the tail,” is heterocercal, with the upper lobe much larger than the lower lobe. It provides the propulsive force. However, the Caribbean giant is not an efficient swimmer. It uses its entire body to swim and moves at an average speed of 5 km/h, relatively slow for a fish.
The mouth of the whale shark can reach 1.5 m wide and has 300 tiny teeth in the form of rasp-like structures that we don’t know its function yet. The eyes are located on the sides of the head to maximize the field of view, but the vision is probably quite poor and used to detect movements within 3 meters. The gills of the whale shark function to extract oxygen and filter plankton from seawater. The great white shark and the killer whale occasionally attack adult whale sharks.
What do WhaleSharks eat?
Similar to the blue whale, its counterpart in the marine megafauna mammals, this sea giant mainly feeds on small prey such as plankton, krill, algae, as well as small crustaceans, squid, and microscopic animals, which it absorbs through its wide mouth. Due to its size, the great white shark, killer whale, and a few opportunistic sharks occasionally prey on adult whale sharks. He is one of the three known filter-feeding sharks. The others are the basking shark and the megamouth shark.
How long do WhaleSharks live?
Its lifespan is estimated to be between 100 and 150 years.
Their life cycle: The male shark uses claspers to deposit sperm inside the female. The female stores the sperm and can use it to fertilize numerous eggs. Whale sharks give birth to live young called “ovoviviparous.”
Important: According to the IUCN, it is likely that the global population of whalesharks has declined by 50% over the past 75 years. The high market value of whale sharks makes them a target for Asian markets: their fins and meat are consumed, and they are also used in Chinese medicine. Fishing, including accidental catches, as well as pollution and ship collisions, poses threats to whale sharks.”
TRIP DETAILS: To fully enjoy the experience, you will need:
- Sun protection (cap, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirt, and windbreaker). But no sunscreen to preserve marine biodiversity! If really needed, you should put biodegradable sunscreen one hour before arriving to the harbour so the skin has enough time to absorb. This is to preserve the ecosystem.
- There is water, soft drinks, and a small sandwich on board. Feel free to bring additional food if you wish.
- Let us know if you need equipment (mask, snorkel, fins, and wetsuit).
- Tips will be appreciated by the boat crew.
- Hotel pickup available, contact us for more details.
- 5:45 AM: Meeting at the diving center. One-hour drive to Punta Sam port in Cancun.
- 7:00 AM: Detailed briefing. Before boarding the boat, we will provide a comprehensive briefing about the day, how to behave around the animals, and important safety points.
- 7:15 AM: Boarding the boat. At 7:15 AM, we will board the boat and head towards the whale shark area. It takes about an hour to reach the interesting zone.
- 8:00 AM onwards: Underwater encounters. After locating the whale sharks, we will have three dives in groups of a maximum of two people with the guide.
- 2:30 PM – 4:00 PM: Ceviche at Isla Mujeres and return to Playa del Carmen. Around 2:30 PM, we will head to a beach in Isla Mujeres. Enjoy some ceviche and dive into the crystal-clear waters of the island!
PS: If you are a certified freediver, you will be allowed to swim with the whalesharks with neoprene suit instead of life jackets.
Here is a small gallery pictures of those beauties, enjoy !