Every year somewhere between 1,000 and 1,500 whale sharks gather offshore near the Yucatan Peninsula and Cancun in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo,congregating here in larger numbers than anywhere else in the world. 2013 has already been an exceptional year so far for swimming with whale sharks in Cancun,with travelers from around the world heading to Mexico in order to experience what it feels like to snorkel alongside these slow moving giants.
Whale sharks can grow up to around 50 feet in length,making them the world’s largest fish,but unlike other sharks they are virtually harmless to humans. Since they have no teeth,these marine behemoths spend most of their lives swimming around in circles eating plankton. Characterized by grey skin with speckled markings,whale sharks gather together in the warm waters of the Mexican Caribbean near Cancun real estate each year from mid-May to mid-September.
“Whale sharks,being filter feeders,have no teeth and are not dangerous to humans,” Juliane Struve,who is assistant professor of fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida,told USA Today. “They are docile and occasionally playful. Swimming with them is probably just as safe as swimming without them.”
It is common for snorkelers to get very close to these giant creatures,but guides will advise travelers to stay close to their head to get the best view. Despite their enormous girth and seemingly slow speed,these massive fish can actually move fairly quickly,making it challenging at times to keep up. Amazingly,whale sharks seldom seem to realize they are being followed,but they also don’t seem to mind having human company.
Nearby Isla Mujeres is another popular place from which to embark on whale shark tours in Mexico’s Riviera Maya,which remains one of the world’s most amazing places to experience this unique marine interaction program. To protect the future of these ethereal creatures,the Mexican government established a protected whale shark biosphere reserve near the Yucatan Peninsula in 2008. Today,more than 240 oceangoing vessels carry nearly 20,000 passengers each season to view and swim with the whale sharks,bringing much-needed revenue to local residents and increasing worldwide awareness about these noble creatures.
The Mexican government and conservationists have worked hard to establish a code of conduct for encounters with whale sharks,including no touching,no chasing and no flash photography. In addition,only one guide and two tourists from each boat are permitted to interact with any given whale shark at one time,and everyone involved is required to stay at least six feet away.