Whale Shark Diving In Belize
The whale shark (Rhincodon Typus) is one of the more fascinating creatures of the sea. They are not whales at all, but rather filter feeders that happen to be the world’s largest fish. They feed on plankton like krill, copepods, and crab larvae, as well as on small fish, squid, and jellyfish; they open their mouths very wide (up to 1.5 meters), and suck in their food, which is filtered by the fine mesh of their gill rakers. Unlike some other filter feeders, they don’t need to propel themselves forward – they can suck in water to catch their prey.
Whale sharks are known to inhabit both deep and shallow waters around coral atolls and reefs. In Belize, whale sharks may be particularly sighted during the latter half of the months of March, April, May, and June; however, sightings are even reported all the way up to September. The animals are known to appear in places where there are seasonal increases in food. They are mostly solitary and are rarely seen in groups, unless feeding in those locations with an abundant food supply.
Whale sharks give birth to live young, with the eggs first hatching inside the mothers. It is believed that they reach sexual maturity around 30 years of age, and are estimated to have a lifespan of 70 to 180 years!
In spite of their gigantic size, whale sharks are very gentle creatures. They can be quite playful with humans, even initiating physical contact and allowing some to ride on their backs. However, when snorkeling or diving with whale sharks
, it’s always a good idea to take a few very simple precautions: maintain a safe distance from the animals, and avoid touching them at all or using flash photography. This is because you may end up scaring them away and risk yourself being seriously injured. If you are trying to taking pictures, try to photograph the shark’s left side, behind the gills. The pattern of spots and stripes behind their gills is unique to each animal and is used to distinguish them. The pictures you take may be sent to www.whaleshark.org
, a website dedicated to establishing a global photo database of whale sharks. One of the things still largely unknown about whale sharks is where they go to breed. Any photos of them that you take will be matched with images sent by other people from all over the world to try to track the roaming habits of whale sharks. This will also help to obtain a better estimate of their population numbers. The exact current population is unknown, but it has been established that they are an endangered species -- the species is presently listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Source: Marine Parks