Up Close and Personal With Whale Sharks in Cancun
By Crystal McCormick
When you think of vacationing in Cancun, the phrase swimming with sharks is probably not what comes to mind. In fact, it's probably on the top of your list of exactly what to avoid while on holiday.
But, swimming with whale sharks? That is a whole other story.
Besides the amazing beaches, luxurious all-inclusive resorts, and Mayan history, visitors are increasingly flocking to Riviera Maya to cross taking a dip with the largest fish on the planet off their bucket list. Jumping in the water with cute dolphins while on vacation can be exciting; but let’s face it, there’s just something exhilarating unearthed when you take a plunge with a whale shark.
Before you get up close and personal with these mighty fish during your next Cancun getaway, we must warn you – there’s a couple of things you are going to want to know:
Don’t Let the Name Shark Fool You
Unlike some other shark species, whale sharks are not man-eaters. In fact, they’re considered the gentle giants of the sea. And we do mean giant – these guys can grow to almost 50 feet in length. But don’t let their impressive size fool you - with an average swim speed of 3 m.p.h. and being that they are already accustomed to swimming alongside humans, these whale sharks are very docile creatures.
Best described as resembling a large, polka-dotted catfish, whale sharks are quite a sight to be seen. And while their mouths do extend to almost 5 feet wide, their thousands of teeth are no threats to humans, which cuts out the whole question of are they going to chomp me? In fact, considered “filter feeders,” they spend most of their days swimming in circles gently sucking up microscopic plankton and tiny fish.
World’s Largest Grouping of World’s Largest Sharks
So, how do you get your swim on with whale sharks? You probably won’t have much luck on your own, so no need to venture out alone hoping for a whale shark sighting. Luckily, there are number of tours in Cancun that specialize in this unique adventure.
From July to mid-August whale sharks flock to the waters near Cancun to feed seasonally for a few months each year, which is another reason taking a swim with these fish has become so popular during summer holidays in Mexico.
There's even a yearly Whale Shark Festival on Isla Mujeres to celebrate these majestic sea creatures. Keep in mind that during the summer tours are in high demand. So, if swimming with whale sharks is high on your priority list, be sure you check into tour options as soon as you start planning your Mexican getaway. Staying at Isla Mujeres Palace is the perfect place to plan your adventure with accessibility to some of the richest whale shark waters in the world.
Once on your whale shark diving tour, you’ll snorkel alongside the sharks as they gracefully turn their great spotted bodies in pursuit of tiny prey. If you're lucky, you may be surrounded by as many as 100 whale sharks feeding at the surface. Seeing such an incredible creature up close and observing it in its natural habitat is a magical experience you won’t soon forget.
Don’t Miss Out on a Whale Shark Experience
If you’re sold on swimming with whale sharks during your stay in Cancun, don’t put it off for long. Unfortunately, this remarkable marine life may not be around forever.
Already considered an endangered species on the IUCN Red List, a recent study has now found whale sharks are ingesting dangerous microplastics (tiny fragments of plastic littering the world’s oceans) in alarming quantities. These plastics are common in marine environments and are known to harbor toxic substances such as heavy metals and phthalates.
When eating, whale sharks consume large quantities of small prey by straining them out of the ocean water. In the process, they swallow hundreds to thousands of cubic meters of water daily, leading them to take in substantial amounts of hazardous material floating in the water which can lead to not being able to absorb nutrients and even affects breeding.
“Exposure to these plastic-associated toxins poses a major threat to the health of these animals since it can alter the hormones, which regulate the body’s growth and development, metabolism, and reproductive functions, among other things,” stated author Professor Maria Cristina Fossi of the University of Siena.
Like with many of the world’s greatest creatures, human interference has posed a danger to them. As well as booking your trip soon, make sure you frequent resorts that are environmentally conscious, such as Palace Resorts, who take great pains to give you an unforgettable experience without negatively impacting the surrounding ecosystem.