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The Cuttlefish; The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

The Cuttlefish

The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

  

Off the shores of every ocean except around the Americas hovers one of most ingenious creatures in the world. The Cuttlefish can blend in with almost any natural substrate and most divers will swim unknowingly right by them as they appear to look like a clump of seaweed, a rock, or a patch of gravel. To begin with, they are not a fish, but a member of the phylum Mollusca along with snails and bivalve clams. The word “cuttle” may have come from the Old Norse word for “soft”. They are in the same class Cephalopoda as octopus, squids, and the nautilus. They have eight arms and two elongated tentacles similar to squid and in the middle of that ring of arms is a parrot like beak. They also have a unique internal porous plate called the cuttlebone. The purpose of this porous aragonite plate is similar to a scuba divers “BC”, buoyancy compensator, and the cuttlefish can change its buoyancy with just a little addition or subtraction of gas or fluid within the cuttlebone. You may have seen cuttlebones at a nearby pet store where they are sold as calcium enriched nibble treats for birds such as parakeets. So, while the squid flies just under the surface, and the octopus hugs the bottom or hides in dens, the cuttlefish is hovering over the substrate like a mysteriously color changing oblong shaped flying saucer in search of its next close encounter with shrimp, fish, or crab. They may be near shore in Australia or Indonesia, or found down to depths of 600m (2000ft) elsewhere. Apparently, below this depth their gas filled cuttlebone may implode, so great depth and cold waters may be the biggest reasons why they haven’t already invaded the Americas.

A couple of other things we should quickly mention is that they have three hearts. They use two of the hearts just to pump blood to their gills as they use hemocyanin, a bluish green copper protein, to carry oxygen around and this is less efficient than the rich red colored iron based hemoglobin that we use. The third heart pumps blood to the other parts of their body. Like the squid and octopus, they can squirt out a dark or brown ink that gives them a cloud to hide behind and may as well momentarily affect some predator’s sense of smell.

  

Lastly, we have to mention the eyes and brain. The eyes are shaped like squiggled W’s and have two concentrated sensor spots called foveae on each eye; one of the spots concentrated on light forward of the body, and the other sensor spot on light emitted behind the body. The eyes have no blind spot such as those found in human eyes, and they can even perceive polarized light as well as low levels of light, and without their eyes they can use their lateral lines to hunt in complete darkness. Their eyes may be considered quite advanced in so many aspects, but for the record, the cuttlefish is colorblind. They are constantly looking for visible cues such as light intensity, contrast, polarization, background patterns, and substrate textures. They have one of the largest brain to body mass ratio sizes in the invertebrate kingdom and some scientists believe cuttlefish are similar in intelligence to vertebrates such as pigeons and mice. In laboratories they can run simple maze tests and can be conditioned to learning at least two conditional rules to be used at the same time; such as looking for secondary signs in order to determine the best routes to escape through pipes, or be taught to tap on objects to receive food rewards.

  

On the basic level, their brain takes in the surrounding visual cues and as quick as lightning sends signals out to their seemingly electric skin to change color, patterns, and/or skin texture. Cuttlefish need use only one of three distinguishing methods to make themselves appear invisible. With small backgrounds such as sand, they use a uniform pattern and they blend in by appearing as a collection of sand particles.  For certain sized gravel rocks, they use a mottle pattern and they appear with larger colored areas that replicate as a group of rocks. The third method called disruptive, is used not to blend in with the background, but to disrupt or break apart their own body outline so that potential predators don’t recognize their natural body outline against underwater backgrounds, boulders, or large checkerboard backgrounds such as tested in marine labs. Add to this pattern coloration or different light intensities from forming different colors across their skin and you have a very stealthy and deceptive predator/prey species. Now add their ability to use muscular rings to pump up and transform regional skin tissues into bumps, blades, spikes, and leaflets, and you have what could be easily mistaken as an alien species.

To take a closer look at how they make their bodies change colors we only have to go skin deep. Just beneath the skin are layers of elastic sack cells containing different pigment colors, and commonly referred to as chromatophores. First we find yellow, then red, then deeper down brown pigmented chromatophores. Each chromatophore can reduce in size or increase in surface size by 500% merely by pulling on or relaxing their surrounding muscle cords. Below these chromatophores reside a layer of iridescent emitting and reflecting cells of the colors blue, green, red, and pink.  Below this layer are leucophores, cells that reflect all colors of light at once, or what we commonly refer to as white light. It appears to be a highly complicated eye to brain to skin activity, but cuttlefish can change color in some twenty million pigment cells in mere split seconds and still have extra brain power left to use for other evolving applications.

  

Besides camouflage, cuttlefish use their skin to communicate with each other including using locomotion indicators such as hovering, sitting, jetting, and postures such as arm position and, placement as well as fin shape, and head tilting. In Broadclub cuttlefish, smart smaller males have learned to appear as non-sexually receptive females to move without impunity around larger males guarding potential female mates. They can do this with such skill that the side of their body facing larger potential male rivals appears female in appearance while the side facing potential females partners they flaunt their male side and hence display to the female how clever they really are. While large males are allowed to mate with females some 30% of the time, the clever cross dressing smaller males are allowed to mate some 60% of the time and thus their learned ability to go covert or in duel disguise is successfully rewarded by receptive females over time and their abilities are more successfully propagated through each generation.

  

Another adaptive use of Broadclub cuttlefish is their ability to have waves of light appear to ripple across their head and arms which seems to hypnotize crabs while the cuttlefish prepares to strike from the best strategic angle, so as not to get pinched from the crab’s claws while bringing the crab into contact with their beak.

  

One species can use their colors to worn off predators or go one step farther as to highlight a yellow fringed warning color that they are poisonous such as the little Flamboyant cuttlefish who prefers to walk across the bottom of muck and rarely swims. They are the only cuttlefish known to be poisonous, and the poison is in their muscles, and perhaps as potent as the poison of the blue ring octopus. The fact that they walk similar to a lobe fin fish and have a reduced size cuttlebone could lead to a new evolutionary direction for this species. The fact that cuttlefish only live two years at most, have such a large amount of brain power, and have persisted in the fossil record since the Cretaceous times, shows that these rather unusual soft bodied aliens have the right stuff to keep on evolving and becoming even smarter and more diverse over time: that is, if sharks, fish, dolphins, seals, and humans don’t eat them all first.

 

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Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

Africa and Australia

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Being in a cage in saltwater next to free swimming great white sharks is probably the best way to get an adrenaline rush on this planet. It is also one of the safest ways to see these magnificent creatures close up and personal in the wild. Cage diving was first invented by Rodney Fox of Australia after he survived being mistaken for a possible meal. It could be equally argued that keeping certain tourists behind metal bars is a potentially good measure for keeping great white sharks safe too. Currently there are three locations around the world where local governments permit cage diving: Australia, South Africa, and Guadalupe Island off of Baja California, Mexico. In this article we will concentrate on single day trips out of South Africa and Australia, as Guadalupe Island because of its distance to the mainland entails exclusive liveaboard diving.

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Starting in Cape Town South Africa, you have to drive 2.5 to 3 hours to the seaside village of Gansbaai and a short distance to Kleinbaai Harbour where up to 8 different government authorized charter boats go out to visit great white sharks. Some of the tours will pick you up in Cape Town early in the morning around 4:30 am to make the trip to Gansbaai, while others ask you to come or bring you to Gansbaai the night before the trip to stay in a guest house or lodge; so you don’t have to get up quite so early the day of your great white shark encounter. The reason these trips leave dockside so early is because great whites prefer to hunt at first light and this is the time when you are most likely to see them breach; jump out of the water . Some great whites may breach year round so you always want to have a camera ready around False Bay and Mossel Bay.

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From April to September charter operators may witness over 600 breaches where a great white, whose attack pattern is from depth below to the surface, may shoot out of the water at speeds of up to 25mph (40km/hr.) and soar some 10 feet (3m) up into the air before arching back down towards the water. If the Great white was lucky, and fifty percent of the time they are not, they will have managed to stun or bite a seal just as they cleared the surface. During this first bite, the great white will determine many factors such as how wounded or stunned was the prey, it’s fat content, taste, smell, and if it is worth pursuing further by immediately biting again, or cautiously following at a safe distance while gathering more sensory data before committing to further feeding or determining the bite test is over and any further pursuit is a waste of energy. This fundamental mental process is what has saved many of the humans that have survived the actual overall and surprisingly low number of recorded great white shark bite test encounters as human fat content is disappointedly poor compared to fat enriched cape fur seals; provided one can survive the initial bite and potential great loss of blood. Besides seals, great whites also prefer Jackass Penguins, Dolphins, and seabirds. The millions of humans swimming in the ocean each year are really not on their calorie count list, but the outlines of humans on surfboards, which resemble from below shadows of seals, can from time to time be too tempting to resist an inquisitive bite test.

So going back to first light, you may have a light breakfast and briefing before they take you out on a fifteen minute ride to Shark Alley which is a channel that separates Dyer Island from Geyser Rock. Geyser Rock is the main breeding ground for 40-60,000 cape fur seals. For those times of the year when breaches are few and far between, boat operators go right into chumming the water to attract great whites. This is soon followed by divers rotating in and out of cages to view from below the water line or divers seeking higher ground to film the inquisitive great white sharks from up above. Some of the boat operators require you to have a basic diver certification while others do not. Some cages are bigger than others, but most cages are attached to the boat and are made to float; not sink. They may chum the water and set bait out for great whites to follow, but they try not to directly feed the sharks as they don’t want to alter the shark’s natural behavior any more than necessary. They are greatly aware how important these apex predators are to the ecosystem and some trips have onboard dedicated marine biologists to help answer any questions that you may have. Financially, a set of jaws may fetch $20,000, but one week of great white tourist trips can bring in up to $30,000 in revenue, and that amount is possible every week the boats go out. Now on the emotional side, some locals have watched a great white named “Slashfin” grow from just over 3 feet (1m) shark with a severely cut up fin to a 15 foot (4.5m) long shark with a healed fin with a mere two scares in just under 6 years. It’s amazing how you can get so attached to some of these majestic creatures in the space of a few hours. We should mention that from July to November you might also see Southern Right Whales while out on the water.

Things you need to bring include: swimsuit, a water resistant out of water cover, dry change of clothes, camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, chap stick, seasick medication (if needed), and a hat. Perhaps even a towel if not rented or supplied. The best operations supply you with cold water gear including thicker wetsuit, booties, hood, and perhaps even a weight belt and mask. They may also provide you with snacks, soup, and beverages, or will ask you to bring extra cash for particular snacks, refreshments and for a DVD copy of your “Day with Great Whites”. You might also desire to combine diving in other areas or include safari reserve trips or wine tasting trips as part of your South African holiday adventure.

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In Australia cage diving with great whites is only allowed around the Neptune Islands and to get here, you have to fly two hours from Sydney to Adelaide, then fly 45 minutes over to Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula. The waters are teaming with life here and the tuna in the pens near Port Lincoln are harvested and shipped to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. On a two to three hour cruise out you may see whales, dolphins, bronze whaler sharks, mako sharks, and there is a New Zealand fur seal colony that produces up to 4,000 new pups born November to December each year. There is even a small colony of Australian sea lions out here too.

May thru October are the best viewing times of the year as seal pups first venture off shore from where they born. Large female great whites are seen May, June and July, with the greatest number of great whites recorded in July and August. It’s recommended that you come to Port Lincoln the night before you dive, and spend the night after you dive as most boats are back by 6 pm, but every once in awhile weather or shark activity can push the return to port past 9 pm and that would mean missing your flight out that night. Some outfits are bait and berely (chum) free so you have the opportunity to see the great whites in their most natural state of seal predation. Most outfits have metal cages of various sizes attached to boat, but there is one new cage here called the “aqua sub” which is really a metal framed box with viewing windows in which you and others can enter or leave at any time while staying completely dry. You may also watch live television feeds from under the boat while sitting in the Galley. For those that really like to get wet, some trips come with optional excursions on boat tenders to go swim with the sea lions. Besides an average 12 hour long tour out to the islands and back, there are also other trips out here that may include up to 21 days on a liveaboard. Anchorage sites around the four islands that make up the Neptune Islands are selected depending on the time of year, the existing weather conditions, and local currents. Supplies to bring are similar to those needed during the aforementioned South Africa trips and supplies provided are similar to those supplied by South African great white charters.

If you really want to determine whether you like cage diving with great whites in South Africa better than cage diving in Southern Australia, or the other way around, then you will just have to dive both continents, and when it comes to seeing, filming, and viewing great whites face to face, getting to compare two absolutely astounding destinations like these could be a once in a life time adrenaline filled opportunity and an unforgettable experience with one of nature’s most feared, respected, and jaw drop impressive apex predators.

 

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110,000 Reasons to Go Liveaboard

 

110,000 Reasons To Go Liveaboard

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There are more than 110,000 islands in the world and many pinnacles that rest just below the surface and each and every one of them may be filled with multitudes of critters and creatures that seldom come in contact with humans. Sure, some of these islands may be inhabited, but most require transportation via some sort of marine vessel to get there and it may take a day or two to reach some of these remote destinations. Even destinations that are not remote, but are near other dive sites, may require a liveaboard to maximize your dives as you simultaneously minimize your back and forth to port travel time. Weather, animal migration patterns, multi-nation destinations, and toys/technical gear supplied, are other considerations for choosing liveaboards.

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While many of these liveaboards offer first class dinning experiences with remarkable onboard chefs and while many of these vessels are built using iron wood hulls and beautifully hand crafted teak interiors or modern steel designs with the latest in furnishings and electronics, we will restrict this article to dive destinations, as well as mention some of the experiences you may encounter while being a guest on one or many of these luxury liveaboards vessels.

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Starting off down under, Mike Ball offers great expeditions to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia for three nights/12 dives, or to the Coral Sea for 4 nights/14dives, or a combination of 7 nights and see both incredible dive destinations on one spectacular trip aboard the specifically designed twin hull Spoilsport. It’s just impossible to do so many dives at so many remote Great Barrier Reef dive sites from a shore-based resort or per day dive charter.

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How about diving one nation, but with thousands of islands? The MV Pindito , Msy Seahorse, Komodo Dancer, Raja Ampat Aggressor and the Pelagian are just some of the vessels that cruise though the 15,00 plus island of Indonesia. Indonesia is the epicenter of marine biodiversity. These vessels have different itineraries depending on the time of year to maximize your visit and to view an unforgettable as well as incredible amount of sea life.

How about diving three different nation destinations on one liveaboard trip? The M/V Caribbean Explorer II travels 8 days/ 7 nights to SABA, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. Perhaps you would prefer one island chain like Turks and Caicos, where the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II and the Turks and Caicos Explorer peruse some 70 miles of reefs, walls, multiple cays and islands, as well as visit when possible the 22 mile long Columbus passage that is 7,000ft deep and right on the migration route for Atlantic humpback whales from January to March and large pelagics the rest of the year.

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Speaking of seasons, the Rocio Del Mar is either in the Sea of Cortez around the Midriff Islands or near Revillagigedo-Socorro islands from November to May. The Sea of Cortez also called the Gulf of California; Jacques Cousteau called this area the Galapagos of North America.

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The Nautilus Explorer also leads expeditions to Socorro Island as well as Guadalupe Island, San Bernitos Island, and even all the way over to a seldom visited exotic destination of Clipperton Atol. Guadalupe Island gets the most notoriety as these crystal clear waters make it easy to view some 108 different great white sharks each year. Nautilus Explorer uses double decker descending cages to make your experience with these apex predators unobtrusive, and arguably second to none.

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The Solmar V is also at Socorro Island from November to May and at Guadalupe Island during great white shark season. They are also part of the Dive Encounters Alliance. All vessels are independently owned and they have eight liveaboard destinations including Galapagos, Cocos Island, Maldives, Indonesia, Palau, and Honduras Bay Islands as well as Guadalupe /Socorro Islands.

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For some, the ultimate dive sites are in the Galapagos Islands for this is where Charles Darwin first observed how cormorants had evolved into flightless birds, and Iguanas had evolved into ocean going reptiles. Galapagos penguins and tons of fish, silky and Galapagos sharks round out the rest of the underwater one of a kind marine environment and make this dive adventure so inspiring; the Galapagos Aggressor III and the Humboldt Explorer journey to these enchanted waters.

Now, as they “sea” it, sharks don’t care if it rains, but the time of year you plan your liveaboard trip can greatly effect what you see on your dives. We could be more precise, but generally fish and whale sharks alike rely on the phase of the moon, water temperature, hormonal changes, and Neptune’s will. Then again, you could book the same trip three separate times of the year and end up with three unique diving experiences.

For wreck divers we recommend diving the 50 mile wide Truk Lagoon where you can dive some 60 ships from WW II. This former southern fleet headquarters of the Imperial Japanese fleet is a historical graveyard and with a ghost fleet of submarines, destroyers, cargo ships, Betty bombers and more sunk during two raids in 1944. The Truk Odyssey ventures here. For those that are into tech diving and rebreather diving you might like to journey on the SS Thorfinn.

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Palau also has sunken WWII wrecks as well as a freshwater jellyfish lake. The reef and manta cleaning stations are a big hit with divers, and night dive spawning trips are coordinated with local marine biologists and tour guides from Palau.

The Aggressor and Dancer Fleet Boasts 22 itineraries from East Flores, Belize, Maldives, Myanmar, and to the Red Sea. Their Kona trip will let you dive sites too remote for most one day charter trips and their Cayman Aggressor IV will allow you to dive, weather permitting, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman all in one trip; Saturday to Saturday.

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For something completely different might we suggest one of the 7 trips available by Oceanwide Expeditions to dive the Arctic waters of Spitsbergen using zodiacs to take you close to spider crabs, soft corals, peacock worms, dogfish, and walrus from a safe distance during the warmer summer days when the sun shines 24/7. They also dive in the Antarctic where you’ll see penguins, leopard seals, krill, and fur seals. These dives are for more experienced drysuit trained divers.

We ran out of space before mentioning the Okeanos Aggressor and the hammerheads of Cocos Island off Costa Rica. The M/Y Sun Dancer II is a great way to experience the diving off Belize such as Turneffe Reef and the world famous Blue Hole. The Caribbean Pearl II explores the Honduras Bay Islands. Both the Nai’a liveaboard and the Island Dancer II cruise through Fiji. The M/V Atlantis Azores allows you to dive with ease off Tubbataha Reef and the colorful corals off Anilao in the Philippines. The M/Y Spirit of Niugini lets you tour the muck diving sites of Papua New Guinea. The MV Bilikiki and the MV Spirit of the Solomon Islands let you dive 1500 miles west of Fiji and 1,200 miles northeast of Australia, and just like Fiji, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, you are still diving within the Coral Triangle. In the Maldives you may like to try an adventure aboard the Carpe Vita Explorer, the Maldives Aggressor, or the MV Emperor Voyager. We just might have to write a book to let you know everything about these spectacular world class dive destinations.

Having mentioned all these destinations and luxury liveaboards, we have to admit, that, one of the best reasons to go on one or all of these diving excursions is a chance to meet and dive with other divers that share your level of enthusiasm and passion for the sport; some of these people may become life long friends. Some of these individuals may be professional underwater videographers, photographers, or marine biologists, while others may be relatively new to the sport, and just fun to be around, talk about diving, share past dive adventures, share good food, and most importantly share incredible experiences on a planet mostly covered by water, yet still called Earth.

To access additional information on these and other dive liveaboards as well as their destinations click here or to view possible exclusive deals click here.

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Diving With Whale Sharks

 

Diving With Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks, Rhyncodon typus, are the largest cartilaginous fish in the world today. The largest ever recorded was just over 41ft long, but rumors by fishermen say that they may grow over 46ft in length which makes whale sharks the

second largest cartilaginous fish ever to exist and places them only second in length next to the Megalodon shark that existed some 20 million years ago and as recently as 1.6 million years ago. Only true mammalian whales are greater in length than whale sharks, with the blue whale being the largest creature by mass to ever exist on this planet. Like some species of whales, the whale shark has been able to achieve it’s great size by eating the smallest food source; plankton. They also eat krill, small fish, jellyfish, and squid. Whale sharks are one of only three types of sharks that through convergent evolution some 60 to 30 years ago became plankton feeders. The other two plankton feeders are both lamnoid sharks and include the megamouth shark and the basking shark. These two sharks have more in common with great whites than they do with whale sharks.

Whale sharks belong to the order Orectolobiformes and are related closer to carpet sharks such as wobbegongs and nurse sharks. Whale sharks have a distinct checkerboard pattern of lines and dots on their top/dorsal side that would be useful for a shark that tended to lay hidden in plain sight on the substrate, but whale sharks are constant movers, so why exactly they retain their bottom dweller camouflage pattern after millions of years is not quite clear. Perhaps the pattern helps diffuse radiation on their skin as they glide so close to the surface. Perhaps it helps distinguish others of their kind from predator sharks such as the now extinct Megalodon sharks and current Great White sharks.

Besides their length and disruptive color patterns, there are several other features that make whale sharks unique. To start with, they swim by not only moving their tail from side to side, but by moving two thirds of their body length from side to side. Only the head region remains relatively stationary as they thrust forward in the water forcing huge volumes of water to flow into their forward facing over one meter (3.3 feet) wide mouth. The seawater is expelled out though their five pairs of gills similar to how giant mantas feed, but on a scale as great as 6,000 liters of water per hour. Any plankton in the water over 1millimeter in size becomes trapped by thousands of 10cm long bristles that make up the gill-rakers and is eventually swallowed and passed down a relatively small digestive tract.

Only modern hammerheads sharks move their entire bodies from side to side as they hunt using the electrical receptors in their head to locate buried fish in the sand like a metal detector passing back and forth for greater coverage. Unlike other plankton feeders, whale sharks can also thrust their jaw forward and suck up plankton or small fish. Inside their mouth are some 300 rows containing over 3000 small slightly hooked Velcro like teeth. These small teeth may be used as a rough raspy surface to make it more difficult for small slippery jellyfish and slick squids to escape their ultimate fate, but little other purpose for these tiny teeth has yet to be documented. We do know that Mother Nature does not like to waste energy, and therefore a species will lose what it doesn’t use. For instance, after a brief 10,000 years living in perpetually dark caves, fish will lose their eyesight and become blind. Over millions of years ancestors of whales that returned to the sea, lost their back legs in addition to other bodily changes. Zygorhiza, a primitive 6m/24ft whale had hand sized back legs, while modern whales show no outward sign of ever having back legs except for possible small internal vestigial remnants of back leg bones.

As for their life span, we believe that they may mature after 30 years and live for over 100 years. One female can carry some 300 encased embryos. Offspring are born live: ovoviviparous. The smallest whale shark ever found was less than .5m/15inches in length. Juveniles have been found in the stomachs of blue sharks and blue marlin to name a few. In Taiwan they are called the tofu shark because of their taste and texture. They are currently determined to be vulnerable as a species, but as more divers and snorklers alike get the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants more may be done to assure their ultimate survival.

 

Now once you know how whale sharks live and what they feed on it is easier to find them in the wild. They live in tropical and warm-temperate waters around the world including the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan, Belize, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Israel, Jordan, Africa, Yap, and anywhere else near the equator or where the water temp is between 70-86 degrees Fahrenheit (21-30ºC). They will also migrate in many other destinations at certain times of the year such as the Galapagos Islands, Andaman Sea, Honduras, Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra and Indian Ocean. Much of their habitat overlays the habitat of mantas and other plankton feeders. However, whale sharks are not only found on the surface near bays, reefs, or inside lagoons, but they are known to dive down to 1,286m/4,219ft.

Guides off Isla Mujeres, Mexico to Ningaloo Reef, Australia look for signs of sea birds flocking over the water or tuna jumping in the water. Chances are, the birds and tuna are there to get the fish that have been attracted to the high concentrations of plankton. It won’t take long for one or more whale sharks to join in on the planktonic festivities. Some whale sharks such as a few off of Yap Island, Utila Honduras, and Indonesia like to reside there year round, while others migrate great distances to their preferred feeding destinations. Three days before or after a full moon when corals and reef fish spawn, whale sharks will congregate near these designated areas. In 2011 some 400 whale sharks congregated off the Yucatan coast of Mexico to feast on the aggregate release of cubera, mutton, and dog snapper larvae.

Now you might encounter a whale shark while diving off of Tampa, Florida, an oil rig in the gulf, or off of Costa Rica, but the most popular sites don’t even let you scuba dive with these fish. At certain locations masks and snorkels are permitted only, no flash photography, and keep a distance of 3.3m/10ft away from the fish. Belize is one of the few exceptions, as you may have to scuba dive down to 33m/100ft to view the whale sharks here. The point is that they want the tourists to enjoy the viewing without scaring or harassing the fish. Even a hand on a fin will remove a thin layer of gel that keeps bacteria away from the whale shark’s body, and locals will do anything to protect the tourist equivalent of an aquatic cash cow; if you will.

So when is the best time to see these massive creatures? The locations and time periods vary but here are a few. In Mozambique the best time is November to February, in the Yucatan mid-July to August, at Ningaloo Reef mid March to mid-August, for Belize April to May, Galapagos Islands June to November and in the Philippines December to May with the most whale sharks congregating February to April, but the waters are the calmest April to November. Yeah, sounds a little complicated, and in addition to all this, as famous formidable fish, whale sharks ultimately migrate when they wish.

 

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