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Whale Sharks in Utila, Honduras

See also - Whale Shark Facts & Figures, Research, Controversy, Encounters

Whale Shark - Click to enlarge
Scuba Diver encounters Whale Shark

The Whale Shark is the world's largest fish. The "official" world record size, which is apparently listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, is 12.65m (41ft 6in). Have you have ever been swimming with Whale Sharks? I'd love to know how somebody achieved a measurement this accurate. How did they get the whale shark to stay still (and straighten out), while they ran the 50ft tape measure over its massive length?

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 reputedly cruising the waters around Utila since Adam was a boy. Old Tom has been variously estimated at 40ft, 50ft and even 60ft in length, depending upon who's telling the story. In reality, the most common size seen in the waters surrounding Utila is between approximately 6m and 10m (20ft and 33ft), weighing around 15 - 20 tons.

Whale Shark - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark with distinctive patterning

Although more frequent in the months March-April and August-September, the Whale Shark is regularly sighted around the Island of Utila and unlike dolphins or other fish which tend to school or travel in pods, are usually solitary. That said, it is not uncommon for 5 or more singular Whale Sharks to be sighted in a single day along the northern shores of Utila. The tropical island of Utila is reckoned by some to be home to an annual rendezvous of these presumably migratory creatures who have been recorded traveling over 8,000 miles.

Gulf of Honduras Fishing Grounds
Fishing grounds proximal to Utila

One possible reason for the congregation of Whale Sharks around Utila 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.

Whale Shark - Click to enlarge
Whale Shark with distinctive patterning

Whatever the reason, Whale Sharks are a major attraction for scuba divers and snorkel divers alike here in Utila. Read our Utila Reviews page and you will see that our many visitors talk about seeing (or not seeing a Whale Shark). Utila is indeed blessed, warm Caribbean waters, great underwater visibility, a rich and varied coral fringing reef, off-shore sea mounds and coral heads, populated with an abundance of reef fish, sponges, lobsters, turtles, dolphins and many varieties of rays, (see our Underwater Photo Gallery pages if you don't believe me). And to top it all off, the tropical island of Utila is one of the few places in the world where a Whale Shark will frequently pass close to shore, which is why Utila is known as The Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean.

 

See also - Whale Shark Facts & FiguresResearchControversy, Encounters