As the whale shark season is about to start in a month it is important to learn more about these beautiful creatures and how to preserve them! Although, the whale sharks are major touristic attraction especially in the coast of Cancun, we should make sure that we do not harm these animals.
So, what are the whale sharks – whale or a shark? The truth is that the whale sharks are considered sharks, however they have some things in common with the whales as well. They are filter feeders – a filtering apparatus in its mouth allows it to capture tiny marine life from the vast amount of water it swallows, just like some whales. Plankton are their main food source, but they also eat shrimp, algae and other marine plant material, sardines, anchovies, mackerels, squid, tuna and albacore, as well as fish eggs. Doesn’t sound really dangerous for us, does it? And it is not!
Although, you will be swimming side to side with the biggest fish in the world, growing as long as 60 feet, you are completely save!
But how do the whale sharks get so big? Many scientists believe that the fact that many whale shark live up to 150 years gives them the time to grow. They usually swim on their own, but on certain occasions (feeding and mating) when they travel long distances they do it together. The whale sharks are generally not bothered by humans. They swim really slow and peacefully especially while feeding on the plankton.
Threats and conservation
Although, many countries took measures about the preservation of the whale shark they are still listed vulnerable by the IUCN. The whale shark might be the biggest fish but they are still not protected by predators like orcas, blue sharks and white sharks (especially when they are young and vulnerable). Humans are also a threat to the whale shark: in Asia their meat is of high value and their fins are sold to elaborate soup with supposed medical purpose.
During your swim with the whale shark make sure you keep your distance and don’t bother the docile animal. Follow the instructions of your guide and you will enjoy once in a lifetime experience!
Be respectful to the animals, you are visiting their home!