At the top of almost every divers bucket list is a whale shark sighting. Hearth pounding, exhilarating, amazing and perhaps a once in a lifetime experience.
There is a lot of information on line about where to go to swim with a whale shark; it is a bit overwhelming. But we have some tips to help you maximize your chances of having an awesome encounter.
Most people who have seen the whale shark have been blessed with dumb luck and the coveted curse of being in the right place at the right time. I did not think I possessed either of these qualities until I stumbled upon the holy grail of the whale shark world; Gladden Spit, Belize - 3 days after the full moon in May. This is when the mutton and cubera snapper are spawning. The whale shark follows to feed off the eggs.
I arrived a couple days before the full moon in May and upon arrival was educated on the likelihood of seeing a whale shark. I had to stay. It is best to wait until the dive boats start seeing whale sharks before going out. Once the whale sharks start migrating into Gladden Split, they grow in numbers, generally stay there for a week and the number of sightings increases. I had to be patient; the longer I waited the better my chances were of swimming with the largest fish in the sea. Generally, the best day to see the whale shark is the 3rd or 4th day after the full moon. One day after the full moon there was the first whale shark sighting of the month, but only one boat saw it. Two days after the full moon, there was nothing. Three days after there were two separate sightings of whale sharks. Four days after the full moon I went on my first scheduled dive trip. At Thatch Caye, we stay in touch with all of the diving operators in the area to track the sightings and maximize our guests chances.
It is a bit of a trek out to Gladden Split and once we got outside the reef, the waters were rough. I was thankful for my rock gut and small breakfast as I watched a fellow diver lose her breakfast, and possibly her internal organs, over the side of the boat. It helps if you take some anti-nausea medication before you leave the resort We saw our first two whale sharks from the boat. Seeing a whale shark from a boat is amazing, but not as amazing as dropping in and seeing the whale shark face to face. The largest fish in the ocean and polka-dotted to boot. The shark’s slow movement and tranquil aurora balanced the natural fear of being so close to a creature of that size. The desire to touch the fish was offset by the fear of a $5,000 USD fine, but when one of the sharks almost swan right into me my only thought was that they couldn’t fine me if it’s not my fault, right? Ok, my first through wasn’t even conscious, it was an absurdly unjustified yet paralyzing fear that I was going to be eaten by a harmless filter-feeding shark. My second thought was that it wouldn’t help to try and swim away because the whale shark can swim faster. Then calm followed by excitement that I might get to ‘accidentally’ touch the whale sharks polka-dotted ridges or smooth belly. He swam right over the top of my head. Slowly, gracefully and beautifully. I did not reach up to touch his belly out of respect for the shark, but I could have. He was that close.