The whale shark is the living definition of a “gentle giant.” Even though this fish can grow up to lengths of up to 14 m with a weight over 30 mt, it still allows humans to enjoy swimming with it; a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The largest confirmed whale shark had a length of 12.65 m and weighed more than 21.5 mt. It is the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate and is the only member of the genus Rhincodon in the family, Rhinocodontidae, which is believed to have originated 60 million years ago.
The whale shark can be found in open tropical waters, where the temperature is warm. They are filter feeders and mainly feed on plankton or small fish. It was discovered in 1828, when a 4.6m was harpooned in Table Bay. The name came from the fish’s size and filter feeding ability, like the baleen whale. Even though it is a large fish, the whale shark is known for its peaceful and solitary nature, preferring to swim from one feeding place to the next; unaffected by the scuba divers and snorkelers who come along for the ride. Here are the best locations in which to see this magnificent animal.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
The Isla Holbox is found in the Gulf of Mexico that boasts idyllic beach settings and is one of Mexico’s best kept secrets. Escape the tourist frenzy in Cancun and hop on a boat that will whisk you away to the pristine natural beaches and abundant marine life on the Isla Holbox. The annual migration of the whale shark from mid-July to the end of August is a must-see for any visitor to the region where you will witness the sight of numerous megalithic whale sharks enjoying the tropical water.
Gladden Spit, Belize
The cubera, mutton and dog snappers yearly spawning at Gladden Spit near Placencia in the world-famous diving spot, Belize, draws hundreds of whale sharks to the area for an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are strict rules to diving with these animals to protect their natural behaviour; you are not allowed to get too closer and flash photography is prohibited. However, it is a memorable experience that you will no doubt relive over and over again. After seeing the whale sharks, take a trip to the Blue Hole and cross seeing this magnificent natural wonder off your bucket list.
Honda Bay, Philippines
Donsol Bay is the most well-known spot for scuba diving but for those who want to experience the magic sight of the colossal whale shark need only head to Palawan’s Honda Bay. On most tours, experienced dive scouts search for the whale sharks before deciding on the best location for you so you can get the most out of your trip. The local guides are normally fishermen who will take you out to sea in their traditional outrigger bangkas canoes. After snorkelling with the whale sharks, visit the multi-coloured, protected Pambato Reef and snap some stunning photos.
Utila is one of the cheapest places to visit with sightings of whale sharks occurring all year round. This back packing heaven The deep, open water north of this island are where these epic sea creatures can be found, enjoying the tuna that inhabit the region.
Ningaloo is Australia’s largest and most dive friendly coral reef, lying north of Perth on the west coast. The reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to over 500 fish species, including regular visitor, the whale shark. Many tour guides take groups out for the day to the reef, where you are given educational talks on the habitat as well as spotting the whale shark and numerous other marine life such as manta rays and Humpback whales.
Home to the highest concentrations of whale sharks in Africa, Mozambique is a mecca for snorkelers and divers hoping for a glimpse of the mammoth whale shark. You will get more than just a look, with many people getting to touch and swim with these mighty fish; allowing for serious credibility back home when you regale your friends with your story. Tofo has a never-ending supply of plankton that entices the whale sharks to stick around and you may witness up to 50 of these creatures at a time. There are many Mozambique dive packages that are available for travellers that are both cheap and comprehensive, ensuring the ideal tropical getaway.
Whale sharks can be spotted swimming the waters surrounding the Seychelles in September and October as they migrate to Australia. The Marine Conservation Society of the Seychelles (MCSS) track the movements of these tremendous animals as they congregate in the deeper waters off the coast, allowing for tour groups to be able to locate the best dive and snorkel spots for those wanting to see them. The whale shark was declared a protected species by the MCSS and most of the whale sharks have been tagged to monitor them for further research and protection.