Whalesharks in Southern Belize

A personal account from guest John, who is currently in his 3rd week with ReefCI in Southern Belize. Here he describes his reasons behind his trip and his first, up close and personal whale shark experience:

Whalesharks in Southern Belize

   "My year of travel has all been planned around one thing, Whale shark season in south Belize.

Whale Sharks season in Belize runs from March-June, so I chose to go to Reef CI for three weeks over the full moon on April the 6th to give me the best change of spotting our oceans largest fish! The full moon also sparks off coral spawning and the magical ‘String of Pearls’.

The bumpy 2 hour boat ride was my first clue as to quite how remote The Island is; it only takes 222 steps to circle the whole thing. With electricity provided by a generator only part of the day, rain water used for showers and sea water used to flush the composting toilets the experience is far from luxury but The Islands beauty is breathe taking. How many other places can you stand and see an uninterrupted 360° view of the sea where you can watch sunrise and sunset from the same spot, not to mention being situated right on the world’s most pristine and second largest barrier reef.

The diving is amazing, beautiful Caribbean fish flit around colourful coral and (unlike further north) they seem surprised by the sight of divers. These are not popular touristy dive sites, these are remote reefs where you never see another boat or diver!

It was only my first full day when Rowland (our boat captain) told us that he had seen some birds circling in the distance, a good indication that Whale Sharks might be feeding. So we called off the afternoon dive and headed out on the boat with fingers crossed. After an hour of searching, we still hadn’t seen anything so turned around and started to head back. All of a sudden Rowland made a sharp turn and we sped up. As soon as I spotted the birds the adrenaline kicked in, as we got closer to the action we had our first glimpse of not one but two huge Whale Sharks as their mouths breeched the surface as they fed on the small fish. Within seconds we had our snorkelling kit on and were dropping into the water. Also feeding on the small fish were tuna and there to feed on the tuna were around a dozen silky sharks and a few Caribbean reef sharks too.

Picture the scene. A total feeding frenzy, birds were diving underwater to feed, tuna were leaping out of the water to escape the silkys and the Whale Sharks were effortlessly hovering up fish by the mouthful. On any normal dive, spotting one silky would be a highlight never mind 12 but today they took the back seat, all eyes were on the Whale Sharks. Obviously not disturbed by our presence they simple finished feeding and started to swim away. Following one as quickly as I could was pointless; one slow push with its tail and it was disappearing into the blue. Just as I gave up the chase I looked down, only to see the most perfect image of the second Whale Shark passing just meters below before diving into the deep.

We quickly jumped back onboard because Rowland had seen some more commotion in another direction. In what seemed like mere seconds we were back in the water, this time almost on top of another. This one was big! He was easily 35-40ft long and obscured my entire view as I approached. As before I swam down to him at full speed but this time he wasn’t going anywhere, in fact completely oblivious to my presence he turned towards me and I had to stop quickly to avoid colliding with his head. As he turned and swam away he brushed against my arm before gliding his tail past me at break neck speed, the wake caused by his movement actually blew me backwards.

 Suddenly remembering the need to breathe I surfaced quickly and spent the next few minutes with more silky shark gradually getting braver and braver, closer and closer to me. I love sharks and didn’t feel even slightly threatened by them but as one of the larger ones approached me head on I would be lying if I said it didn’t get my heart beating at a mile a minute.

Simply put it was the best experience of my life and the single most beautiful thing I have ever seen plus all the video footage taken by Reef CI volunteers gets used to identify individual sharks and monitor the migration patterns to allow us to learn more about them.

“In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught!” Baba Diuom, Sengalese Poet "