The Gentle Shark
Explorers and locals have been sighting the whale shark in the tropics for centuries, but only recently have they become another major tourist attraction for the Yucatan area. Despite an intimidating name, whale sharks are completely harmless. They are filter feeders, meaning they only feast on plankton and have no teeth. They also prefer to be in waters over 22°C (72°F) — much like us!
Whale sharks are the largest type of fish currently existing on Earth. The name refers specifically to their size, as actual whales breathe air, these sharks have gills. Researchers recorded the largest known shark at 12.5 metres (41 feet) long, with average adults about 9.7m (31ft). They usually weigh around a whopping 9 tonnes (20,000 lbs)! They are completely docile, and often permit swimmers and divers to get very close in the water. The young sharks ones love to swim and play with humans, and none pose any threat to people. Quite the opposite, actually.
Unfortunately, these sharks’ majestic gentleness have attracted tourists in droves, and the World Wildlife Fund now lists them as “vulnerable”. They are even considered to be an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Native and Natural Resources. New rules forbid tourists to touch the whales, swim close, or exceed a few people per tour at a time.
Viewing the Whale Sharks
Luckily though there are still plenty of opportunities to safely view these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat via Tulum and surrounding areas. One of the companies here is Tulum Diving and Travel which provides great tours as well as following responsible diving practices.
The sharks gather in large swaths between the months of May and September, which is the best time to see them. Depending on the season, they may gather near Tulum, or further out in Isla Mujeres or Isla Contoy, but tour services abound. Be sure to book your reservation early, however, as tour groups limit spaces for the protection of these beautiful animals! And enjoy top notch accommodation for your stay in Tulum through BRM rentals!