Whale sharks are actually sharks, and sharks are a type of fish.  They are one of only three filter feeding shark species. What does this mean? Well first of all it means that they aren’t a danger to humans, which is why we can swim with them. It also means that they eat by straining suspended food matter and particles from the water like plankton and macro-algae.  They have huge mouths than can measure up to 1.5 yards across and have between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth, which strangely enough play no role in their feeding. Here on the Yucatan Peninsula local fisherman affectionately call them “dominos” due to their distinctive patterns of spots.

The largest confirmed documented whale shark was 41.5 feet in length. This is probably where they get the “whale” part of their name. The heaviest weighed in at more than 79,000 pounds. However, unconfirmed reports (“Fish stories” perhaps?) claim that whale sharks of up to 59 feet and 95,000 pounds have been spotted by fishermen and even scientists. Females give birth to hundreds of pups at the same time. Their lifespan is an amazing 70 to 100 years.

Whale sharks are found in all tropical and warm-temperate seas and scientists aren’t exactly sure why but every spring they migrate to certain regions around the globe, including off of Isla Mujeres and Holbox here in the plankton rich waters of the Yucatan Peninsula. Last August (2010) researchers counted 420 whale sharks in one area. They are docile creatures who sometimes even let humans grab on and go along for the ride. Formal “swim with whale sharks” tours started about 5 years ago and are available from mid-May through mid-September although July and August are the peak whale shark months.

Swimming with these gentle giants in the aqua blue waters of the Mexican Caribbean is an experience one will never forget. Take a look at the video below!



Book our Swim with Whale Sharks tour

Writter Bio


Is an American expat who has been living in Cancun, Mexico since 2001. A mother, singer, salsa dancer and now writer and community manager, she has worked in many different industries but is currently enjoying exploring the Yucatan Peninsula and sharing her expertise and experience with readers around the world. Follow Kristin on Twitter


6 Responses to “Whale Sharks: What you Probably Didn’t Know”

  1. Howard Miller

    I took my family to Cancun last summer, we went swimming with whale sharks, and it was amazing! We went with a tour from out of Cancun, instead of Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox, because it took a lot less time out of the day. Plus we went with the same company that took out the researchers from the Georgia Aquarium, so we knew that it was a good decision. Whichever company you decide to go with, make sure they have a valid license number (they should have it displayed on their website). The folks we went with were fantastic, great with the kids, and my wife who is a weak swimmer:

    Happy Adventuring,

  2. RumShopRyan

    Wow. Wow. Wow. I’ve always wanted to do this. Those are some amazing photos. Thanks for the information, I think I just moved this up on my must do list in the Caribbean.


  3. Kristin Busse

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us Howard!

    Oh yes Ryan, it’s a MUST DO!

  4. Kristin Busse

    Great idea! Those memories will last a lifetime. Please let us know how it goes.

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