Mexico’s whale shark season
If you find yourself along Mexico’s Riviera Maya between the months of May and September, you may want to add something completely different to your fun-in-the-sun list. As large as a school bus and as gentle as a giant, the world’s largest fish arrives to these waters once a year.
Between May and September, the whale shark meanders its way to the warm Caribbean Sea where they stay for the summer, eating plankton and entertaining daredevil divers. There are very few places in the world that host these amazing creatures each year, however, the Riviera Maya just happens to be on their natural migratory path.
Specifically, it’s the waters between Holbox, at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula, down to Isla Mujeres and into Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, that are considered one of the most privileged places on the planet. These massive fish arrive in large quantities each year for what is locally referred to as Whale Shark season.
The whale shark, which is the largest fish in the sea and considered a threatened species, can grow anywhere from 5 to 12 meters in length (18 to 39 feet) – or more — and weigh an average of 20.6 tons. The Caribbean Sea offers these carnivores their favorite food, which is the same tiny plankton that many whales eat.
With their colossal gaping mouths, whale sharks scoop up the tiny plants and animals, along with any small fish that just may be in the way. They basically filter anything in its path while skimming near the surface.
Whale sharks are easy to spot when they’re feeding, as they eat either at the surface or just below it. Much like the second-largest fish, the basking shark, the whale shark’s flattened head sports a blunt snout above its mouth for cross-flow filtration when eating. The back and sides of the giant fish are normally gray to brown dotted with white spots among vertical and horizontal stripes.
These wondrous fish are amazingly docile and gentle and have no fear of curious human divers or swimmers. It is for this reason swimming with them is such an enjoyable event. If you’re considering a diving tour, look for an experienced service provider since whale sharks are listed as a vulnerable species.