Whale sharks are magnificent creatures that take our breath away. To see one up close is a life-changing experience. At almost 17m (55 feet) in length, they are enormous and intimidating animals, yet they are incredibly gentle. They are completely harmless to humans and cannot bite. They glide through the water, filtering it for fish eggs, plankton, krill, and small fish.
Surprisingly little is known about these mysterious giants. They inhabit almost all tropical waters around the globe and they migrate great distances, yet biologists still don’t understand where they have their young. They swim seemingly effortlessly with their mouths open, capturing food in the combs in their gills. They allow water to flow out of their massive gill sots as they feed.
These Canadian tourists embarked on a boat tour with Serious Diving near Isla Mujeres, in Mexico. This is an ethical tour company that works hard to protect the whale sharks through conservation efforts and working with government agencies to share information. It is this data that is used to establish regulations and laws that protect the animals from improper human behavior.
The tourists have been swimming in the water and photographing the whale sharks as they feed in their natural environment. The captain of the boat had just made the decision to move farther from the feeding area to prevent crowding of the sharks. When they parked the boat at a distance, they were surprised and delighted to see that a whale shark was headed toward them. Apparently curious about the boat, the gigantic shark swam around them and gave them a show they would not forget. It swam past the back of the boat and then it turned, heading straight toward the bow. Just below the surface, the whale shark was clearly visible gulping water and food as it came close. It gently nudged the boat as it swam underneath. It continued on its way, unharmed, and even swam around the tourists a few more times before heading off into the distance.
Illegal harvest and entanglement in commercial fishing nets are a serious threat to these whale sharks. To lose them forever would be beyond tragic.