Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences.
Whale Sharks are protected in Honduras and the Bay Islands is one of the few places that they can be seen year-round. The whale shark is listed as “Vulnerable” with the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). They are protected under the CITES agreement and under Honduran law.
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 can be at times overwhelming. Whale sharks in the Bay Islands 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.
You will find many web sites with claims to have seen even bigger fish and they are possibly true. Local fisherman and the older scuba divers in Utila tell stories of “Old Tom”, a legendary barnacle encrusted Whale Shark reportedly cruising the waters around Utila since Adam was a boy. Old Tom has been estimated at 40ft, 50ft and even 60ft in length, depending upon who’s telling the story. In reality, the most common size of whale sharks seen in the waters surrounding Utila is between approximately 6m and 10m (20ft and 33ft), weighing around 15 – 20 tons.
One possible reason for the congregation of Whale Sharks around the islands is oceanography. Being located on the extreme northern margin of the Honduran shelf and unlike the other Bay Islands which are separated from the shelf area by a deep, fault controlled trench, the tropical island has shallow banks to the south and a very large bank to the north (between Utila and Glovers Reef off the coast of Belize). Kingfish, dolphin, and several species of swordfish are common in northern offshore waters, and commercial fishermen indicate that the largest concentrations of bonito and albacore are to be found within the southern circular eddy, where they periodically pass within a short distance of Utila while pursuing shoals of baitfish.
There are some dive shops offering whale sharks safaris on Utila and Roatan. One of them, Splash Inn Dive Resort, offers day trips to Cayos cochinos where snorkelers and divers could meet this beautiful animals.
Remember to keep a respectful distance from the gentle giants, resisting the urge to touch them or to use flash photography the bay islands are The Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean.