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All About Whale Sharks

Whale SharkWhale SharkWhale Shark




Click to Take a Day Trip to Holbox Island for Snorkeling with Whalesharks During Their Annual Migration!

Click to Take a Day Trip to Cancun for Snorkeling with Whalesharks During Their Annual Migration!

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.

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 SharkHonduras - According to the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences, whale sharks are seen quite frequently in 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.

Belize - 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.

During 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, the 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.

Holbox 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 June, 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.

How Can YOU Interact With Whale Sharks While in Cozumel??
While whale sharks do not swim around or near the island of Cozumel, during June, July & August each year, Cozumel visitors can take day trips off the island to 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!!

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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
 Cozumel Dolphin Swim Adventure
A unique opportunity to swim with dolphins and get to know them better! Experience the joy of a dolphin kiss, hugs and handshake and then marvel at the dolphin’s strength as you are towed through the water with a "belly ride." You will fall in love with their gentleness during this activity created especially for you to bond with dolphins!
US$ 119/Adult / US$ 89 child
 Cozumel Punta Sur Ecopark, Lighthouse & Snorkeling
Cozumel's largest natural eco-park featuring a lighthouse to climb, Mayan ruins to see, coves to snorkel, a nautical museum, sea turtle nesting areas, a crocodile sanctuary an enormous mangrove lagoon where Spoonbill Flamingos nest and Egrets go hunting daily along with a multitude of other animal species that call the park home. Experience Cozumel's wildlife up close personal here!
Adult $ 125 / Child $ 115
 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
 Cozumel to Cancun Whale Shark Snorkel Day Trip
Shorter day trip whale shark snorkel experience with boat departing from Cancun! Personal service from a professional guide who escorts guests the entire way from Isla Cozumel to Cancun!
US$ 179 per person
 Cozumel to Holbox Whale Shark Snorkel Day Trip
Spectacular day trip whale shark snorkel experience with boat departing from Isla Holbox! Personal service from a professional guide who escorts guests the entire way from Isla Cozumel to Isla Holbox!
US$ 210 per person
I like daisies too!
Cozumel Butterfly Sanctuary Tour & PalMar Beach Club
Safe, Educational & Fun for the whole family
Cozumel Atlantis Submarine Adventure
Giant Pool by the Sea!
PalMar's SMALL Snorkel Beach Club
Whale Shark
Cozumel to Cancun Whale Shark Snorkel Day Trip
Personal Experiences
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I know you probably get lots of pictures but I had to send you three. Look at the smiles on my boy’s faces. That says it all! Thank you so much for all your help and advice. We can’t wait to return. Your website is the first place we will stop! I wish we could have met in person. We will next time! T. Mahler Family ~ Howe ,TX

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!
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