An Overview Of Whale Sharks In Cozumel
By Tom Seest
Whale sharks are truly astounding oceanic creatures. Pelagic in nature, whale sharks prefer warmer waters but may occasionally be found in colder water environments as well.
Cozumel offers visitors an unforgettable opportunity to swim alongside these majestic marine life, especially during their migration season from May to September. At that time, hundreds of whale sharks congregated near Isla Mujeres and Holbox to feed on plankton.
This photo was taken by mohamed Zekry and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/brown-concrete-building-under-blue-sky-10545941/.
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Cozumel whale sharks may not be common sight in its waters, but divers do see them during diving trips here.
These elasmobranchs (classified by having gill openings and a cartilage-based skeleton instead of bone) aren’t dangerous to humans; in fact, they’re quite friendly creatures! With proper precautions taken and patience on your part, you could even snorkel alongside one.
As it swims forward, a whale shark draws massive volumes of water into its mouth before filtering and expelling it through its gills for filtering and expulsion through its gills. From these waters emerge plankton, krill, jellyfish, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, which it then consumes.
Fish can eat for six hours a day, resting on the surface when not feeding or recuperating from injury. Aside from feeding and resting, these creatures have also been known to regenerate sections of their fins or even recover from serious wounds.
Size can range between 2.5-10 meters long and can weigh as much as 4,000 pounds.
During the summer months, they congregate off of the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico, where it meets with the Caribbean Sea, then disperse between August and October.
Over the past several years, we have conducted extensive studies of this group of whale sharks using traditional visual tags, photo identification, and satellite tags to track their movements. We found they were most active during summer and fall and often congregated near continental shelf-edge banks.
Once we realized these whale sharks migrated north from their aggregation sites into the Caribbean Sea, using data from 35 whale sharks tagged with PSAT tags during July and August off Isla Holbox and Isla Contoy, we made a surprising discovery: They could migrate north.
Tags attached to these sharks tracked their movements for 30-200 days at regular intervals, recording ambient temperature and pressure measurements as they traveled. Tagging data revealed they traveled in two distinct modal distributions: some sharks headed north from aggregation sites while others traveled south. It appears those moving north could potentially end up heading toward the western Caribbean, while those going south likely headed more directly into Mexican Caribbean waters.
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Cozumel is world renowned for its spectacular scuba diving sites, featuring stunning coral reefs and marine life. Cozumel’s clear waters are home to manatees, sea turtles, and whale sharks – giving scuba divers an incredible opportunity to observe these astounding animals in their natural environments. Witnessing such majestic marine life first-hand will leave an everlasting memory.
Whale sharks can be found all around the globe, although they prefer warm tropical waters. Whale sharks have the ability to travel long distances in search of food sources and breed in their natural environments – making them some of the most endangered animals on Earth.
Filter-feeding sharks, one of only three species to do this (others being basking and megamouth sharks), use large mouth openings — up to five feet in some instances — so their gill rakers can sieve prey items as small as 1 millimeter through.
Human-sized but otherwise harmless shark gills undulate beautifully while they feed, pushing water out into the ocean. Furthermore, these sharks feature more than 300 rows of tiny teeth measuring less than six millimeters long that do not assist them with feeding.
Female sharks give birth to hundreds of small infants (about 20 inches/45 cm in length) after internal fertilization, using hard, reinforced egg cases that she will store safely within her abdomen until the young hatch out and emerge from their cocoons.
Young sharks typically feed on fish eggs as soon as they emerge, in addition to eating krill, crab larvae, and Christmas Island red crabs.
They can reach more than 10 meters long and weigh over one hundred tons, but they don’t need to swim very deep for sustenance; most of their time is spent near the surface and only come up for air during daytime feeding sessions.
Mexican government enforces stringent guidelines when it comes to swimming with sharks to ensure their habitats remain healthy while still providing people with an amazing experience. Only certified guides should accompany guests when swimming with sharks, and visitors are not permitted to ride or touch these sharks.
This photo was taken by SlimMars 13 and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/whale-near-sea-shore-13832617/.
Whale sharks are filter feeders, feeding on small fish, phytoplankton, and other forms of zooplankton such as plankton, krill, tiny squid eggs, and even planktonic species like plankton. Their modified gills act like sieves to trap any particles larger than 3mm while simultaneously expelling excess water; alternatively, they can “cough” to clear build-ups in their gill rakers that accumulate food accumulations within.
Whale Sharks can be seen along Mexico’s eastern coast, feeding on plankton abundantly available in the Caribbean Sea waters. For best-viewing results, mid-June through August is the ideal time.
These remarkable creatures can grow to over 12 meters long, making them one of the largest fish species in the sea! Swimming with them is a truly remarkable experience that should not be missed!
Swimming with whale sharks requires special equipment, which we offer. Our snorkel is tailored to fit perfectly on your head with an elastic mouthpiece designed to fit over your teeth for easy and comfortable interaction with dolphins and whale sharks. This means that you can experience all that our area has to offer comfortably!
As soon as you enter the water with a whale shark, we advise staying close by its side rather than in front of it in order to prevent any disturbances from approaching from the front. It is also important that no direct contact be made between yourself and the shark as it may become infected with bacteria from skin contact and ultimately result in an unpleasant “shark burn.
As part of our tour, we will abide by standard safety rules, and should any whale shark approach us at any point, we will cease activity until he or she is safely out of view. This ensures a positive interaction and experience for all involved on the tour.
Whale sharks in Cozumel are protected species under Mexican law, and tours to see these majestic marine life are regulated by SEMARNAT and SECTUR. When planning your vacation to Cozumel, be sure to look for tour operators certified by one of these agencies when selecting tour operators.
This photo was taken by Iurii Laimin and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/whale-sculpture-in-a-pond-in-klcc-park-in-kuala-lumpur-malaysia-14708325/.
If you have the good fortune of diving Cozumel, chances are good that you will encounter a whale shark. These aquatic mammals are frequently seen swimming along its waters during July and August when temperatures soar.
Swordfish are extremely friendly species and will allow you to come close when swimming near them in open waters or near coral reefs, although they may swim close to shore if conditions permit.
For this species, Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula serves as their primary feeding ground from May through September; they assemble here in large numbers from this period onward. Protecting this area is of utmost importance as it serves as a home for these animals and their families.
Over recent years, several studies have documented whale shark migration patterns that may be affected by factors like climate change and along-shelf currents that suspend nutrients, wind shear, seasonal changes, planktonic blooms, etc.
Whale sharks exhibit similar movements as other sharks, such as basking sharks; however, their movements are more noticeable due to the abundance of their feeding grounds. Whale sharks migrate between coastal and offshore environments, feeding off rich planktonic blooms before feeding off of the bottom.
Research scientists have used PSAT tags attached to whale sharks off of the Yucatan Peninsula (YP) and elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico in order to track their movement and habitat use. PSAT tags record ambient temperature, pressure, and light level data, which is then uploaded via satellite to an online database.
These tags are equipped to transmit data through the Argos satellite system when within range of a shark, depending on their size and species. Once connected to the PSAT system, they may store up to 200 days’ worth of ambient temperature and pressure readings as well.
Tagging of these animals in the Young Preserve, located adjacent to federally protected natural areas covering land and coastal waters in the vicinity of Isla Holbox and Contoy Islands, has provided invaluable research for their preservation. Over 35 sharks have been tagged since 2003, and their tracks tracked closely for ten years.
This photo was taken by Taylen Lundequam and is available on Pexels at https://www.pexels.com/photo/whales-back-visible-above-the-water-surface-14775587/.