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The Whale Shark: a Quick Guide

whale shark

Between the months of June and September a message extends through the waters of the Mexican Caribbean and a giant comes promptly to the call. Plankton is the basis of whale shark feeding, a universe of tiny creatures, some barely visible, which multiply at certain times of the year in tropical waters. The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet; Specimens of up to 12 meters in length and 20 tons of weight have been registered. From end to end, the crescent of its tail can measure two and a half meters and the open mouth is one and a half meters wide.

On the other hand, the whale shark is a slow and parsimonious animal; Almost never anything more than 5 km per hour and instead of using its powerful tail to propel itself, it is propelled with undulations of the whole body. For this reason it is safe to swim in the proximity of these huge fish.

Just as the feeding of this shark is very different from that of its hunter relatives, so is the way it eats its food. The whale shark moves slowly through the waters with open mouth, which ingests hundreds of liters of water that, in its passage, filters through the gills. In these are retained the small animals that make up the plankton, in addition to small fish, larvae and crustaceans.

The waters near Cozumel and Isla Mujeres, like those of many tropical reef systems, are environments of great biological diversity. On the one hand, the banks find shelter from the currents and from the larger predators large communities of fish and organisms; On the other hand, the infiltration of the Yucatan peninsula and the intense insolation allow the growth of the microscopic algae that feed the plankton, so that in this region congregations of up to forty of these giants have been sighted, Usually they are solitary. In addition, as these algae multiply faster near the surface, near the sunlight, whale sharks often spend much of the time without submerging to considerable depths.

One of the biggest mysteries about whale shark is its mating, since it has never been possible to document this part of its life cycle. The pups come from the egg inside the mother, from which they pass into the sea, but scientists have not been able to observe or measure accurately young specimens of this species.

Swimming with them is a safe and very emotional activity that has become popular in the various corners of the world where, as in the Mexican Caribbean, it is possible to find them. With a snorkel kit you can admire up close the pattern of white spots on your back or slow and majestic movements.