The whale sharks of Honduras are special. It is always a breath taking experience to swim with the largest fish in the sea, but the excitement of this possibility every day is at times overwhelming. Whale sharks in Utila are seen year round. There tend to be certain conditions in which they are more likely to be seen, but even the most predictable days may leave nothing but a want for more and the most unlikely day may leave you in a frenzy of excitement. Sighting reports from many years include at least one from every month of the year.
Conditions in which these gentle giants are seen tend to be hot, still days with plenty of nutrients in the water. However, there are days that are choppy, windy, cool, rainy, etc, when whale sharks have been spotted as well.
“How do you find the whale sharks?” you may ask.
First is word of mouth. If whale sharks have been known to be in the area captains radio to each other and to fisherman for the latest activity.
Second, basic search. Many sightings are off the coast of Utila, however, in between Roatan and Cayos Cochinos where the deep waters bring an up-welling of nutrients whale shark are frequently encountered. Not many boats venture this far away from land. We look for birds diving and fish jumping. A good old fashioned boil, or bait ball, will let us know if our friends are nearby. Occasionally, the captain may see one on the surface traipsing by on his or her way to the next plankton concentration.
Long story short? Sighting whale sharks is one of the most amazing although rare experiences. There are no promises, however, many operations will go to every effort to encounter one during your stay. Some boats will go only for whale sharks while others incorporate snorkeling and diving.
Why do we snorkel with the sharks?
Whale sharks are spotted on the surface feeding on plankton in either a slow horizontal swim or a vertical stance. Clients are usually prepared by the crew for the potential encounter with mask, fins, and snorkel in the ready position. Once the captain gives word, quietly and quickly glide into the water and look down. The shark may move on with a graceful wisp of the tail or if we are lucky, will continue to feed for up to 10 more minutes without moving. Scuba equipment is unnecessary, cumbersome, and a deterrent in seeing whale sharks in our particular conditions.