Suitcase and World: Shark.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


May to October is whale shark season in the Yucatán and from June 1st to September 15th, tour operators are allowed to take tourists out to swim with these magnificent creatures!

A while back I had lunch with my friend Roger who told me of his experience swimming alongside a whale shark, off the coast of Mozambique. I remember thinking to myself how amazing that experience must have been to be and that I must do it if I ever got the chance. So you can imagine that I'm thrilled to pieces to find out that we'll be in Tulum at the time of the year that the sharks will be in the waters off  the Yucatán.  There is an interesting article in the Washington Post that describes a phenomenon known as the afuera - a gathering of hundreds of sharks that have migrated in to feed off the huge schools of little tunny, an abundant member of the tuna family, which spawn in the warm Yucatán waters.

I really want to experience the wonder of swimming next to a whale shark.  If we get to go, this will truly be a memorable, experience of a lifetime! *fingers crossed*

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the largest fish in the world. They have been known to reach up to 15 meters (50 feet) in length and weigh up to a whopping 36 tonnes (79,000 lbs)!!

The whale shark inhabits all tropical and warm-temperate seas, including the waters off Isla Holbox ("hol-bosh"), located northwest of Cancun.
The whale shark is a filter feeder — one of only three known filter feeding shark species (along with the basking shark and the mega mouth shark). It feeds on macro-algae, plankton, krill and sealife such as small squid and small fish.

As a filter feeder it has a large, capacious mouth that can contain between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth. It has five large pairs of gills. Two small eyes are located towards the front of the shark's wide, flat head. The body is mostly grey with a white belly; three prominent ridges run along each side of the animal and the skin is marked with a "checkerboard" of pale yellow spots and stripes. These spots are unique to each individual and are useful for counting populations. Its skin can be up to 10 centimetres (3.9 in) thick. The shark has a pair each of dorsal fins and pectoral fins.

Photograph by Brian J. Skerry
Despite its size, the whale shark is a gentle giant; snorkelers and divers can easily swim alongside without fear.

You have to admit, this is just too cool an experience to not do.

I've emailed several tour operators to get more information.  Isla Holbox is located quite a distance from Tulum and the tours start bright and early at around 7am.  I'm trying to figure what our transportation options are.  Of course, I hope one of the tours will come and pick us up which would make things a lot easier for us.

Next thing is tell me brother we're going to be doing this and to convince him to get an underwater housing for his camera so we can videotape our experience!