Whale shark trip plans

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bvbellomo

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United States
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I just got back from Cozumel and loved it and am thinking about a summer trip to swim with the whale sharks at Isla Mujeres and had a few questions.

1) Is there a "best" time to go? I know these are June-September, but if there are more whale sharks the first week of August, that's when I'd go.
2) Are life jackets required? It seems years ago they were not, but maybe the requirement changed? Even with fins, I won't get far under water with a life jacket.
3) Is this worth a trip to Mexico? Is this something worth doing 7 days of whale shark swimming? Or is this just a 1 and done and maybe head to Cozumel for a few days?
4) I do want to see Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and maybe some other ruins. Should I plan that on this trip? Or better to plan a 3rd trip in the winter?
5) As an experienced scuba diver, am I better planning a trip somewhere else with whale sharks?
6) I know whale sharks are different sizes, is this a good place to see big ones?
 

Catito

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Location
Palm Beach County, Fl
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I just got back from Cozumel and loved it and am thinking about a summer trip to swim with the whale sharks at Isla Mujeres and had a few questions.

1) Is there a "best" time to go? I know these are June-September, but if there are more whale sharks the first week of August, that's when I'd go.
2) Are life jackets required? It seems years ago they were not, but maybe the requirement changed? Even with fins, I won't get far under water with a life jacket.
3) Is this worth a trip to Mexico? Is this something worth doing 7 days of whale shark swimming? Or is this just a 1 and done and maybe head to Cozumel for a few days?
4) I do want to see Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and maybe some other ruins. Should I plan that on this trip? Or better to plan a 3rd trip in the winter?
5) As an experienced scuba diver, am I better planning a trip somewhere else with whale sharks?
6) I know whale sharks are different sizes, is this a good place to see big ones?
We were there in July 2021 for a swim with the whale sharks. We hired a private boat. 1/2 an afternoon.

I have told all of my friends and family: DO NOT DO IT! It was terrible. A pod of whale sharks surrounded by 40 plus boats. Each boat (but ours) with 10 or more swimmers ( life jackets required). When you jumped in the water you smelled and tasted diesel fuel. I cannot I imagine how much of that the whales swallowed.

Mexican “regulations” called for two swimmers at a time per whale—did not happen. NO regulations at all. A couple of people were grabbing dorsal fins.

It was terrible. I regretted contributing to the terrible situation and we left early. Not what I envisioned at all.

The whale sharks there are doomed.
 

Manuel Sam

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1. I have gone twice (2010 and 2018) timing it with the full moon of July, 3-4 days before and two days after the full moon, because full moon seems to be when the spawn of bonitos and/or snappers occurs. I had very good encounters on both trips. After my last trip in 2018, I concluded that there was definitely a decline in numbers from 2010 to 2018. Also, that it wasn't worth it to be there after the full moon because most of the whalesharks seemed to have left, and there must have been 15 people chasing after one whaleshark, with boats sometimes desperately charging ahead to place their guests ahead of the animal. Whereas, before the full moon, pretty much every boat and its snorkelers had its fill of whalesharks without crossing into the path of snorkelers from other boats. On good days, there is no doubt that you will see the entire Mexican armada of boats out there - so much so that from a distance, it almost looked like there was an island out there. But I would not let that discourage you because to me, it is the best and easiest venue to get to from the US for whalesharks, with blue waters (not green like in Holbox or La Paz) albeit not great viz due to the amount of fish eggs in the water. t

2. When I went, a wetsuit was accepted in lieu of a life jacket. On the really busy days, there were park officials out there enforcing the rules.

3. If it is whalesharks that you want, as I said above, this is the best you can do on this hemisphere. After Isla Mujeres, I felt that if I didn't see another whaleshark again, I wouldn't feel terribly disappointed. I feel that that my 2 trips there were very much worth my while and money, but I did not do the normal tourist thing. Tourist boats will take you and up to 9 others out at 8:30 - 9:00am, get out there by around 10:00, wrap things up by around 11:30am or earlier, so as to motor back and anchor the boat on Playa Norte around noon to serve you ceviche and sandwiches and allow you to swim or snorkel there until around 1:00pm, at which time they return you to the dock. Do the arithmetic and you quickly realize that your total in-water time with 2 snorkelers per boat at a time in the water, and let's say 10 minutes per turn, is peanuts.

I chartered for 6 days with a group of 6 the first time and a group of 3 the second time. I negotiated with the operator to go out at 7:00am, and head back no earlier than 1:00pm or later (depending on how the action was). Lunch was eaten out there at our chosen time, like in between turns or when we wanted or needed a break. I would do a minimum of 3 days because you never know when a day could be canceled due to a storm or turns out to be a slow day. The more days out there, the more you will see. For example, we had two separate encounters with sailfish one day. One day we had a lot of mantas in addition to whalesharks, including a choo-choo train of 5 mantas. We also saw dolphins out there. Of course, I am not going to say that these are everyday occurrences, but you won't see anything if you are not out there.

4. No idea - depends on how many available days and how much money you have.

5. In my opinion, this is as good as it gets, but it is all snorkeling. Not clear anymore if freediving is allowed. That's another thing that those park officials are on the lookout for. If you want to do it with scuba, the only places I know of that are exclusively for whalesharks are in Indonesia and the Philippines. As best as I know, all of the whaleshark venues in Mexico are snorkeling only. Placencia in Belize and Utila in Honduras are other known places that people go to specifically for whaleshark sightings in this hemisphere, and where you might scuba with them, but I don't know how much of a sure thing they are there. Galapagos, Maldives, Mozambique, Djibouti, and St, Helena are the other places where there are consistent sightings in season.

6. No. These ones are 20-30 ft max. The buses are in the Galapagos. I have seen 40-footers in Cocos and Socorro.
 

Catito

Contributor
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652
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Location
Palm Beach County, Fl
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1. I have gone twice (2010 and 2018) timing it with the full moon of July, 3-4 days before and two days after the full moon, because full moon seems to be when the spawn of bonitos and/or snappers occurs. I had very good encounters on both trips. After my last trip in 2018, I concluded that there was definitely a decline in numbers from 2010 to 2018. Also, that it wasn't worth it to be there after the full moon because most of the whalesharks seemed to have left, and there must have been 15 people chasing after one whaleshark, with boats sometimes desperately charging ahead to place their guests ahead of the animal. Whereas, before the full moon, pretty much every boat and its snorkelers had its fill of whalesharks without crossing into the path of snorkelers from other boats. On good days, there is no doubt that you will see the entire Mexican armada of boats out there - so much so that from a distance, it almost looked like there was an island out there. But I would not let that discourage you because to me, it is the best and easiest venue to get to from the US for whalesharks, with blue waters (not green like in Holbox or La Paz) albeit not great viz due to the amount of fish eggs in the water. t

2. When I went, a wetsuit was accepted in lieu of a life jacket. On the really busy days, there were park officials out there enforcing the rules.

3. If it is whalesharks that you want, as I said above, this is the best you can do on this hemisphere. After Isla Mujeres, I felt that if I didn't see another whaleshark again, I wouldn't feel terribly disappointed. I feel that that my 2 trips there were very much worth my while and money, but I did not do the normal tourist thing. Tourist boats will take you and up to 9 others out at 8:30 - 9:00am, get out there by around 10:00, wrap things up by around 11:30am or earlier, so as to motor back and anchor the boat on Playa Norte around noon to serve you ceviche and sandwiches and allow you to swim or snorkel there until around 1:00pm, at which time they return you to the dock. Do the arithmetic and you quickly realize that your total in-water time with 2 snorkelers per boat at a time in the water, and let's say 10 minutes per turn, is peanuts.

I chartered for 6 days with a group of 6 the first time and a group of 3 the second time. I negotiated with the operator to go out at 7:00am, and head back no earlier than 1:00pm or later (depending on how the action was). Lunch was eaten out there at our chosen time, like in between turns or when we wanted or needed a break. I would do a minimum of 3 days because you never know when a day could be canceled due to a storm or turns out to be a slow day. The more days out there, the more you will see. For example, we had two separate encounters with sailfish one day. One day we had a lot of mantas in addition to whalesharks, including a choo-choo train of 5 mantas. We also saw dolphins out there. Of course, I am not going to say that these are everyday occurrences, but you won't see anything if you are not out there.

4. No idea - depends on how many available days and how much money you have.

5. In my opinion, this is as good as it gets, but it is all snorkeling. Not clear anymore if freediving is allowed. That's another thing that those park officials are on the lookout for. If you want to do it with scuba, the only places I know of that are exclusively for whalesharks are in Indonesia and the Philippines. As best as I know, all of the whaleshark venues in Mexico are snorkeling only. Placencia in Belize and Utila in Honduras are other known places that people go to specifically for whaleshark sightings in this hemisphere, and where you might scuba with them, but I don't know how much of a sure thing they are there. Galapagos, Maldives, Mozambique, Djibouti, and St, Helena are the other places where there are consistent sightings in season.

6. No. These ones are 20-30 ft max. The buses are in the Galapagos. I have seen 40-footers in Cocos and Socorro.
I do not recommend. I went in 2021
 

JFS

Contributor
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964
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Location
Cozumel Mexico
I just got back from Cozumel and loved it and am thinking about a summer trip to swim with the whale sharks at Isla Mujeres and had a few questions.

1) Is there a "best" time to go? I know these are June-September, but if there are more whale sharks the first week of August, that's when I'd go.
2) Are life jackets required? It seems years ago they were not, but maybe the requirement changed? Even with fins, I won't get far under water with a life jacket.
3) Is this worth a trip to Mexico? Is this something worth doing 7 days of whale shark swimming? Or is this just a 1 and done and maybe head to Cozumel for a few days?
4) I do want to see Tulum, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and maybe some other ruins. Should I plan that on this trip? Or better to plan a 3rd trip in the winter?
5) As an experienced scuba diver, am I better planning a trip somewhere else with whale sharks?
6) I know whale sharks are different sizes, is this a good place to see big ones?
Hello. We have been doing whale shark tours for 12 years now. We are based in Cozumel but can pick up anywhere on the mainland as well. This past year June was our best month for encounters with lots of mantas and whale sharks. The water is rougher at that time compared to july or august. Past years mid July around full moon was always great. It is snorkel only, Life jackets are mandatory now. Freediving is not allowed. Unless you are a whale shark fanatic , going 7 days is a lot. Your best bet would be to do a private tour, have the boat for yourself and spend hours in the water in one day. that would give you the opportunity to do other things like visit the ruins , dive etc... There has been a noticeable decline in big whale sharks seen since around 2013/2014. We see average size of around 25 feet now compared to 40 footers in past. There is a few larger ones seen now but its rare. The whale shark industry is heavily regulated now. There is a federal parque marino official usually out in the area watching and enforcing rules.
 

Catito

Contributor
Messages
652
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Location
Palm Beach County, Fl
# of dives
200 - 499
Hello. We have been doing whale shark tours for 12 years now. We are based in Cozumel but can pick up anywhere on the mainland as well. This past year June was our best month for encounters with lots of mantas and whale sharks. The water is rougher at that time compared to july or august. Past years mid July around full moon was always great. It is snorkel only, Life jackets are mandatory now. Freediving is not allowed. Unless you are a whale shark fanatic , going 7 days is a lot. Your best bet would be to do a private tour, have the boat for yourself and spend hours in the water in one day. that would give you the opportunity to do other things like visit the ruins , dive etc... There has been a noticeable decline in big whale sharks seen since around 2013/2014. We see average size of around 25 feet now compared to 40 footers in past. There is a few larger ones seen now but its rare. The whale shark industry is heavily regulated now. There is a federal parque marino official usually out in the area watching and enforcing rules.
Thank you for this information.

When I was there in July 2021 there appeared to be no regulation by anyone. A pod was surrounded by 40 boats (we counted). As I relayed in my message above, the water tasted and smelled like diesel because of the crush of boats—and the whales were ingesting this water. I personally witnessed two snorkelers hanging on to dorsal fins. There were more than two divers per whale (which is allegedly against the refs). It was awful. We were on a private boat—and I wished I had not gone.

Based on what I saw, this cannot be good for the whales’ survival and I am encouraging people not to go. We can still spend dollars in Mexico and help the tourist industry with the type of eco tourism that does not kill off the animals…your statement above is telling “There has been a noticeable decline in big whale sharks since around 2013/2014.”
 

JFS

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Cozumel Mexico
Thank you for this information.

When I was there in July 2021 there appeared to be no regulation by anyone. A pod was surrounded by 40 boats (we counted). As I relayed in my message above, the water tasted and smelled like diesel because of the crush of boats—and the whales were ingesting this water. I personally witnessed two snorkelers hanging on to dorsal fins. There were more than two divers per whale (which is allegedly against the refs). It was awful. We were on a private boat—and I wished I had not gone.

Based on what I saw, this cannot be good for the whales’ survival and I am encouraging people not to go. We can still spend dollars in Mexico and help the tourist industry with the type of eco tourism that does not kill off the animals…your statement above is telling “There has been a noticeable decline in big whale sharks since around 2013/2014.”
Im surprised to hear that. I personally have not seen anything like that. All guides in the water are supposed to follow strict guidlines and often times you will see captains of boats yelling at others who are not following rules.There is only one boat that does enforcement so he may have been at a diffrent area or had day off. As far as water smelling like diesel, thats tough because 99% of the boats permitted in the area use 4 stroke gasoline engines. Ive never seen a permitted boat in the area that doesnt use 4 stroke outboard gasoline engines. Our tours follow the guidlines and all boats we use are in great operating condition.
 

Catito

Contributor
Messages
652
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Location
Palm Beach County, Fl
# of dives
200 - 499
Im surprised to hear that. I personally have not seen anything like that. All guides in the water are supposed to follow strict guidlines and often times you will see captains of boats yelling at others who are not following rules.There is only one boat that does enforcement so he may have been at a diffrent area or had day off. As far as water smelling like diesel, thats tough because 99% of the boats permitted in the area use 4 stroke gasoline engines. Ive never seen a permitted boat in the area that doesnt use 4 stroke outboard gasoline engines. Our tours follow the guidlines and all boats we use are in great operating condition.
Then maybe it was gasoline. It was not salt water and it was coming from the boats. We tasted it as we snorkeled.

Come on. It is terrible. I understand Mexico needs tourists…eco tourism is more sustainable.
 

JFS

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Location
Cozumel Mexico
Even Sunscreen is prohibited in the area. We make sure our customers are aware of that. Dont know what operator you were with but we follow all rules and the boats we use dont leak fuel. All boats are required to have permits to be in the whale shark area.
 
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