For the fourth consecutive year, the Cancun Convention and Visitors Bureau celebrated International Whale Shark Day on August 30th, 2011 promoting the importance of preserving this beautiful and unique species. The destination just successfully concluded the celebration of the 4th annual Whale Shark Festival on the neighboring island of Isla Mujeres. The official season for whale sharks begins May 15th and can be found in waters near Cancun until mid September.
Whale sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean. They are the largest fish in the world measuring up to 40 feet (12 meters) and weighing up to 15 tons. Fortunately for those of us that want to swim with the whale shark they are totally harmless and peaceful. They are a fascinating creature to behold, with its wide mouth extending to 5 feet. The whale shark swims with its mouth open, close to the surface of the water, and just sucks in the plankton. It then closes its mouth and forces all the unwanted water out of its gills and only the plankton remains. The whale shark has a unique checkerboard pattern on its back made up of creamy white spots and pale horizontal and vertical stripes with a white underbelly so is easily distinguishable. This pattern is why it is also often known as the Domino.
International Whale Shark Day was established in 2008, during the International Whale Shark Conference that was held on the island of Holbox with representatives specializing in environmental matters from over 40 countries. In June 2009 a Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve was established just north of the Quintana Roo coast where the highest concentration of whale sharks gather of during their annual migration.
This is an example of world-class eco-tourism; as tourists come especially to visit these beautiful creatures in a safe and sustainable way and this tourism has contributed to the local economy and helped the families of fishermen in Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Chiquilá, both socially and economically as well as helping protect and preserve the species. According to Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory and the official spokesperson for the 2011 edition of the festival, about 1,400 whale sharks arrive each summer to the northern waters of Isla Mujeres.
Swimming with whale sharks involves following a strict protocol to protect both the species and their habitat. Some of these simple but useful rules include: No more than 10 people per boat; only two people and guide – in turns – can swim with whale sharks; life jackets are mandatory and must be used at all times; it is prohibited to touch the sharks; only small boats are allowed; and there is a controlled number of tour operators certified to visit the area.
During your vacation in Cancun you have the once in a lifetime opportunity to get up close to one of these amazing creatures. For more information please visit http://cancun.travel/en/things-to-do/adventure/whale-shark/