Whale Shark Tour 2019
What to know before your tour
We are very excited about the upcoming whale shark season 2019. For us, offering this activity has always been very satisfactory and we are constantly trying to improve every aspect to offer you a unique experience.
It is very important that you understand that we are doing an activity with wild animals in the open ocean. There are many factors at play that influence this activity and believe us when we say that every single day is different.
Our goal is to offer you the best possible experience according to the circumstances focusing in service and safety.
The season and the migration
Officially, the season starts on May 15th and ends on September 17th. This period has been determined by the Mexican authorities because it is in these months when the species are in the region according to their migration patterns. All permits we need to do this activity are only valid within these dates, but whale sharks don’t migrate all from the same place and at the same time. This means that they don’t show up in our area in large groups from one day to another, it is more like we have scattered sightings between May and June, finding them in small numbers first, and as we go more into the season the number of whale sharks increases until we reach a peak from July to August, and from September to October, they start leaving the area gradually. Although we know that they are still in the area after September 17th, we are not allowed to do tours after this date, so this is the end of the season for us.
When navigating in the open sea, we have to be especially aware of the weather conditions. Weather is not only important for safety reasons, it will also affect the tour in other aspects, for example on a windy day, we will have more waves, we will not be able to drive so fast, the boat ride can be bumpy and seeing a whale shark in a distance will be more difficult. On the other hand, on a calm day we can reach the area faster and smoother and it will be easier to see the whale sharks from a larger distance.
We always have to follow the directions of the authorities. The regional and the local Harbor Masters will determine if specific weather conditions are suitable or not to do our Whale Shark Tour. Besides the official instructions of the Harbor Master, we will also determine, in certain cases, if the conditions are good to do the tour or not, considering safety, comfort and the chances to find whale sharks on a specific day.
Generally speaking, weather conditions in our area are very good and stable during the summer, but it is always possible to have a tropical system close to us that might affect the tour for two or three days by not being able to go out in a boat. We could say that weather can be windier during the first 3 or 4 weeks of the season and then calm until the third week of August. After that and until the end of the season, the chances to have a tropical system affecting our area is higher.
The total area where we can find whale sharks and where we have the permits to do this activity is 6,300 square kilometers (more than 1.5 million acres). The distance from one extreme to the other is about 150 nautical miles (this distance can take us 6 hours to cover under optimal conditions and at maximum allowed speed of 25 knots). Within this area we have specific places where we know that there is a higher chance to find a whale shark. Whale sharks don’t move that much from one day to the next, so we try searching the area where we saw them in the previous days. We also have local fishermen as our informants, and they will tell us if whale sharks have been sighted in a specific area.
The time it will take us to find a whale shark once the boat leaves the pier can be between 45 minutes and up to three hours. This will depend on the place where the whale sharks can be found on a specific day and on the prevailing weather conditions (wind and waves). This location can be closer to Holbox or closer to Isla Mujeres and it is impossible to know this more than 3-5 days in advance. Whale shark move within the whole area and if it could take us three hours to get to the place where they are on a specific day, for them it could be like moving from the kitchen to the living room if we imagine the whole area as their home.
It is also important to mention that while we are searching for whale sharks on the surface (covering a 2-D area), whale sharks can also sink to the bottom and they might not come to the surface on certain days.
Whale sharks are plankton eaters and they follow the food. The vertical movement of plankton depends on different factors like water temperature, streams or currents, salinity, etc. In our experience, we can say that plankton is more likely to be on the surface between 9:00 and 13:00, so that is the optimal time to search for whale sharks in a given area. This is also the reason why it might not make much sense to start the tour earlier (i.e. to avoid seeing other boats in the area). We have also observed that whale sharks are sensitive to atmospheric pressure and they might not come to the surface when we have lower barometric pressure.
Considering all these factors, we can summarize the information in this table:
|May 15th –
|June 11th –
|July 1st –
|September 1st –
Other operators and the total number of boats
The touristic activity with Whale sharks in the Mexican Caribbean is regulated by the Mexican government and there is a limited number of authorized operators. Boats can depart only from specific piers located in Isla Mujeres, Punta Sam, Holbox and Chiquilá.
Most of the times boats are scattered in the zone, but when the currents concentrate the food in a small area, you might see a large number of boats. In such cases, there may as well be a large number of whale sharks and the ratio can be of several whale sharks per boat.
On few days during the season it could happen that due to a shortage or lack of plankton on the surface, we are only able to see a few whale sharks while the rest of the aggregation remains in the bottom. If this happens there can be a large number of boats and only a few specimens to see. A new regulation indicates that if the number of whale sharks in a specific place is less than five, and the number of boats is larger than 5 boats per whale shark, tourists will not be allowed to swim with the whale sharks and the activity will be limited to watch these animals from the boat. This specific regulation was made to avoid the harassment of the animals. It is possible that some operators won’t follow this rule, especially if there is no authority in the area, but we must understand that all regulations were made to protect the whale sharks and therefore we will not follow the disobedient operators. We thank you in advance for your understanding of our position and your sensitivity towards the whale sharks.
Guarantee and refunds
The whale shark management program for this activity specifically prohibits to guarantee any whale shark sighting. This is because it has been proved that operators and captains offering money back guarantee tend to disobey the rules in the area just to make sure that a tourist can see a whale shark in order to avoid payment refunds, resulting in a harmful practice for the whale sharks.
We cannot and do not guarantee the sightings of whale sharks. We are talking about wild animals in the open sea, and the presence of a whale shark in a specific area is absolutely not in our hands. Our captains are former fishermen and they have known the area for years. If there is a whale shark on the surface, they will most likely find it. If we consider that on specific days it is less likely to see whale sharks because of the given conditions, we will inform you accordingly and offer you the possibility to cancel your booking entitling you to a full refund of your payment. Our policy is to be very honest about the conditions and about what to expect. We prefer a cancelation over a complaint. If you decide to do the tour, once the boat has left the pier, we cannot give any refund.
If the harbor master closes the port or if we decide not to do the tour because of the conditions and/or the low chances of seeing whale sharks, we will refund 100% of your payment.
For cancellations made up to 72 hours before the tour we will refund 100% of your payment. After that, we will refund your payment only if we can sell the seats you have cancelled. Most of the times, especially during the busier months, we are fully booked and even have waiting lists on certain dates. We also have clients looking for seats with us one day before the tour, so it is very probable that we can sell the cancelled seats. Time is of the essence in these cases, so if you need to make a cancellation, let us know as soon as possible.
When we have very last-minute cancellations (i.e. one hour before the tour because of sickness), we have managed to sell the seats directly on the pier shortly before departure or to overbooked operators. When this is the case, we might offer the last-minute client a discount, and if we do, the penalty of the last-minute cancellation would be the discount offered to fill the empty seat. The whole idea of our booking and cancelation policy is to secure our clients a seat on our tour and at the same time make sure that our boats are full. We don’t pretend to make extra money from cancellations.
Restrictions (Important if you have children)
According to Mexican law, this type of services known as “Nautical Tourism” have following restrictions:
- Services will not be provided to pregnant women, people with recent injuries or physical disabilities, heart, neurological, nervous or back problems, and those who have ingested drugs, intoxicants or intoxicating beverages.
- Services can only be provided to minors aged between 10 and 16 years if they are accompanied by an adult. If you have children aged between 6 and 10 years, they will only be allowed to participate in this excursion with a written liability release signed by the parents in the understanding that they will assume full responsibility. This service will not be provided to minors under six years, even if parents assume full responsibility. Regarding the insurance, it will only cover passengers with a minimum age of 12. For children under 12, parents will assume full responsibility by signing a liability release for the insurance.
- The use of life vests is mandatory in all cases.
- The service provider will not be held responsible for the damages caused to the users by their own fault or inexcusable negligence of themselves.
- All participants must wear a bracelet that proves that the federal tax has been paid (tax included in the price).
The golden rule is “watch, not touch”. Beside this one, there are many other rules that operators and tourists must follow. Our staff is familiar with all of them and they will inform you if a specific behavior is allowed or not. Here are some of the most important rules that apply to tourists and that all participants must follow:
- Each tourist is allowed to enter the water and swim with a whale shark a maximum of 2 times.
- The maximum of tourist in the water at the same time is 2, always accompanied by the guide
- The observer or tourist should slide cautiously from the boat into the water, avoiding making noise when entering the water
- The use of a life vest while swimming with the whale sharks is mandatory
- The swimmers are not allowed to submerge and try to swim under the whale shark
- It is forbidden to touch the fin, tail or any other part of the Whale Shark
- Only biodegradable sunscreens are allowed
- The use of drones or remote piloted aircraft (RPA) for air or water for tourist and recreational activities related to TB observation activity is prohibited
- It is forbidden to drink alcoholic beverages, toxic or psychotropic substances before or during the trip
- It is forbidden to take photos with flash