Whale Sharks in Belize
The whale shark is the largest fish in the world, and one of the largest creature of any kind alive today. It is classified in the order of Orectolobiformes (five gill slits, anal fin, two dorsal fins, no spines on the fins and the mouth in front of the eyes).
They are most often seen in Belize from Placencia or Hopkins. Unfortunately, since whale sharks are night feeders, there really are no guarantees as to when they
show up. We went last year three days after the full moon at
the end of May, exactly when they were supposed to be there.
No whale sharks. They did not show up until a week later. If
you have a longer visit it may not be a problem, you can just
go down when they get there. Although 3 or 4 days before and after the full and new moons in April and May are the best times to interact with the sharks, they are often sighted through the summer months as well.
They roam up and down the coast, the Gladden Spit area about 26 miles off the coast of Placencia is known to host large concentrations of whale sharks during April and May when Mutton and Dog Snappers are spawning (the whales ingest the spawn as food).
Based on observations, we believe the biggest sharks are in the area in September.
Another thing is that it can be very rough out there.
Conditions are often not optimal. It is a long boatride out
(and therefore costly), but if you get to see the whale sharks
it is certainly worth it. I would wait to make
arrangements for a boat until after you get to Placencia.
Everyone there will know if the whale sharks have arrived at
Gladden. There are several tour companies that can arrange
trips once you are there.
© Rachel T. Graham
The shark's genus name is currently Rhincodon typus (the spelling of the genus name has changed over the years from Rhiniodon typus to Rhineodon typus to the current spelling).
The largest accurately measured whale shark was 40 feet, 7 inches in length, with a 4.5 foot wide mouth, a 4.5 foot high dorsal fin, and 6.5 foot long pectoral fins. This "whale" of a shark was caught in a gill net thrown over the side of a 20 foot long boat in Bombay, India!
However, despite their size, whale sharks are remarkably gentle and curious.
The whale shark's gentle natures makes swimming with them a special treat for divers and snorkelers.
The whale shark's curiosity even pulls fishing parties into its thrall. We have sometimes had whale sharks seem to be asking to be petted as they glide alongside our fishing boats.
We prefer snorkeling to diving for whale shark interaction because we believe that snorkeling is less harmful and less stressful to the whale sharks.
From the Ambergris Caye Message Board:
3 DAYS BEFORE AND AFTER THE FULL MOON ARE THE MOST OPPORTUNE
TIME TO SEE
THEM EN MASSE, HOWEVER, THERE ARE ALWAYS A FEW STRAGLERS IN
THE AREA TO BE
HAVE YOU GONE MARTY? DO IT, EITHER SNORKELING OR DIVING, JUST
LAST YEAR I WAS ON SILK CAYES WITH THE RESEARCHERS TRYING TO
TRANSMITTERS BUT REALIZED THESE FISH SWIM DEEPER AND QUICKER
THAN I'LL EVER
BE ABLE TO.
When we were in Placencia last week, mention was made that
there may be an early spawn this year (I don't know who makes
the prediction.) We've been there during the all the months
whale sharks come through since there have been guided trips
and it's all about luck and timing and full moons to see them.
One man we know (age mid-70s) comes in May for the whole
month and he dives every day that it's possible to do so.
Needless to say, he's one of the lucky ones who has had
From what I understand, the full moon in April is the best
time to go. We did it two years ago about a week after the
April full moon and saw about 5 of them. It was one of the
best dives of my life and apparently we missed out on the big
numbers. A few stick around through the full moon of May. We
stayed in Placencia and went out with Sea Horse Dive Shop.
Brian runs the place and has been diving with the whale sharks
for over a decade. I have no problems recommending him. Very
professional. I would give them a call and reserve your space
though. We called them this past April and they were booked
solid around the full moons. Since National Geographic did
their special on the Gladden Spit Whale Sharks, all the dive
shops have been quite busy.
You will not regret going even if you only see 1. They are
such amazing graceful creatures. I hope to go again this year.
I was outside the reef fishing in front of San Pedro when I saw loads of birds a li'l farther out to sea. These birds were swarming the water and I knew there had to be fish there. I started the motor and headed for the birds location on the sea. When I got there I found maybe tons of bait fish boiling on the waters surface. I had never seen so many fish in schools and their motion and behavior seemed odd. I tried casting right into the huge schools of fish but nothing was biting. After a few minutes I found out why the fish were boiling and why they were not interested in eating either. At the stern of my boat something very large poked its head up out of the water. I could see dark spotted skin and then this large creature opened its mouth and it looked like the entire Caribbean Sea was going to be sucked into this giant mouth. Of course it turned out to be a whale shark about 35' long as best I could guestimate. It let all the sea water flow into its giant sieve of a mouth and it ate the small creatures and filtered out the sea. It was, I believe actually herdint the small fish and was enjoying the snack. This was in May of 2000. I suspect you can find Whale Sharks in many places around Belize in the Spring months. Happy hunting.
Whale Shark Spotted Outside the Reef!
The picture to the left was taken by Vickie Kornfuhrer, Owner of Sunset Beach
Resort on Friday, February 3rd, 2006. Vickie and her husband were fishing with
Alberto Bradley outside the reef and were amazed to see it. Size was judged to be
about 20 plus feet as it was bigger than the boat. Luckily she had her camera in
its under water case, and ready for photos. Whale Sharks do not usually linger in
Ambergris Caye waters but are known to pass by.
The sole living member of its family, the whale shark is the world’s largest
living fish. Its massive, fusiform body reaches lengths in excess of 46 feet (14
meters). It has alternating thin white vertical bars and columns of spots on a dark
background, with long ridges along the upper side of the body and a prominent
lateral keel. The narrow mouth extends across the full width of its flattened head.
The eyes are small and far forward on the head. Each nostril has a small barbel
and the gill slits are long and extend above the pectoral fins. Above the relatively
small pelvic fins are the first of two dorsal fins. The powerful caudal fin is semicircular.
It was well-developed internal spongy filters at the gill arches, which help to
retain small prey within its huge mouth. This mechanism may impede the flow of
water through the mouth during swimming, which limits the amount of plankton
the shark can strain. So, as well as filter feeding, it can also pump water into its
mouth to feed on concentrated patches of plankton.
Diet: This shark swims slowly near the surface, consuming small crustacean
plankton, small fishes, such as sardines and anchovies, and even larger fishes
such as mackerel.
Reproduction: The whale shark is a live-bearer. Pregnant females were recently
found to contain hundreds of young, up to about 2' (60cm) long.
Habitat: The whale shark is found in all tropical and subtropical oceans, along
coastal regions, and enters lagoons on tropical islands. It is mostly seen on the
surface were divers and snorkelers can swim with this gentle, curious creature.
Click here for more information on the Gladden Reserve and whale sharks.
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