Diving With Whale Sharks In Belize


Whale shark and scuba diver off Placencia in southern Belize. Image credit Chabilmar.

People are now realizing that through tourism whale sharks are worth more alive and so countries such as the Maldives, Honduras, the Philippines and more recently India have passed laws to protect them. But even tourism can potentially harm whale sharks by disturbing or harassing them. However, if tours are provided by people who are well educated about the needs of whale sharks this should not be a problem. In Belize whale shark tour guides undergo just such training.

Whale shark tour regulations

Whale sharks are curious, relatively slow moving, docile creatures. At Gladden Spit, also known as The Elbow near Placencia, they will readily approach boats, snorkelers and divers if they feel unthreatened. To ensure that whale sharks are not harmed by tourism or boating activities we ask you to observe the following guidelines:

Tour guides & boatmen:

All whale shark tour guides must hold a valid whale shark tour-guide license

Only 8 snorkelers per snorkel guide · Only 8 divers per dive master,

All boats should approach whale sharks at idle speed or no more than 2 knots/hour.

Boats should remain at least 15m (50ft) away from the animal(s) · Do not block the whale shark’s path with the boat.

Discharge your passengers 15m (50ft) from the whale shark.

To avoid harassing sharks and to maximize safety for snorkelers and divers, tour boats should remain 60m (200ft) away from each other if there are snorkelers/divers in the water.

When the whale shark(s) has gone, have all snorkelers/divers at the surface return to the boat immediately. When divers and snorkelers have returned to the boat, leave the area promptly so that other tour groups have access to the whale shark(s).

No whale shark tours will be permitted from one hour before sunset until the following day.

Snorkelers and divers ·

Make sure to get a whale shark interaction briefing from your licensed tour guide.

Do not touch, ride or chase after a whale shark.

Remain at least 3m (10ft) away from the shark.

Do not block the whale shark’s path.

When your tour guide tells you to leave the water, please pay attention and get in the boat as quickly as you can.

Most importantly RELAX and let the whale shark approach you, it’s only curious! Please be considerate.

By adhering to these simple guidelines you will have the best chance of seeing and interacting with a whale shark. To find out more about whale sharks visit the Darwin Project . You can help us unravel the whale shark mystery! When you encounter a whale shark, please note time, date and location, estimated size (in feet or meters), any scars, tag color and number, and the tour operator you were out. Your help is greatly appreciated!

An encounter with a whale shark – by Godsman Ellis

On Sunday 22 September, last month we took a boat from Punta Gorda to Cortez, Honduras. This was a first time experience for me.The captain was Cuevas from Monkey River and other passengers were Jack Noghtingale from the Toledo Belize tourism Industry Association (BTIA), Evan Cayetano from the Belize Center for Environment Studies and Wil Heyman a Marine Biologist.

We headed out to Sapodilla Cayes, recently declared a Marine Reserve by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, from where we were to take a south turn to Cortez. The sea was at first choppy but as we passed the Barrier Reef the waves became rolling, though not rough. The waters were just blue and the skies clear.

A mild breeze kept the heat of the shining sun at a tolerable level. We drank water only once and after enjoying the pizza snack that Jach brought along.

Suddenly the Captain said in a calm way,” Ova de lot a fish di feed”. He was more than right as far as we were concerned. There were thousands of them almost forming a solid mass and not more than 8 inches from the surface. We headed toward them while Wil and Jack excitedly let down their fishing lines but before long they had gone deeper.

We circled the area a couple times but there was not one bite on the lines. We proceeded on our course. After traveling some ten minutes there was another school of fishes and this time even bigger. Again lines down and approach at reduced speed.

But this time Captain Cuevas said “Look” with excitement. Some thirty feet from us he had sighted a WHALE SHARK. As we approached it I had mixed feelings but the other passengers were better knowledgeable about its behavior than I. This gave me courage.

The creature was almost motionless, measuring about 20 feet and the head some 3 feet across. It was brown with white spots all over the visible part of its body. We made a few close passes and at one time I put my hand into the water and TOUCHED IT.

That was the high point of my experience. Having touched a 20 ft. whale shark in its natural habitat. Everyone else agreed with me.

The biologist remarked that he had made several trips to the area before purposely looking for whale sharks and this was his first time. Regrettably this was not a scientific expedition. The trip took three hours and of course we spoke of nothing else for the rest of the way.

Godsman Ellis is a founder and immediate past president of the Belize Tourism Industry Association.