Whale Shark, Baja California

Whale Shark, Baja California

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By Natalie Rodríguez Dowdell

A question that represents quite a mystery to me and that I hope to be able to answer one day is Where do they come from? From friendly waters of countries like Australia where the Whale Shark is protected by numerous laws? Or from hostile waters in countries like Taiwan where whale shark fin soup is a sought after and highly coveted delicacy?

On the eastern coast of the state of Baja California lies a small and beautiful bay, flanked to the west by the inhospitable Baja California desert and to the east by the productive waters of the Sea of ​​Cortez.

The delicate balance created by such contrasting ecosystems favors high productivity, which is reflected in large concentrations of plankton in the bay's waters. These tiny organisms, which are the base of the food chain, allow a mysterious ocean giant to approach year after year and stay for several months in Bahía de los Ángeles.

View of the Lighthouse, Bahia de los Angeles, BC.
(Photo: Roberto Enríquez Andrade)

I still remember the first time I saw a whale shark, I was in a small inflatable boat of 3 m in length, with a 7.5 horsepower outboard motor. I was sailing with my partner through the southern part of the bay when in the distance we detected "something". Several birds were flying over an area, a slight commotion on the surface of the sea testified to the presence of small fish, easy prey for seagulls and pelicans in their incessant dive. Seeing that something, we decided to get closer, total after more than two hours of navigation without finding a single shark, we would not lose absolutely anything.

It is difficult for me to describe what I felt, that impression when I saw a whale shark for the first time. I would like to say that I was brave and like Chanóc I jumped into the water without hesitation, but what I really thought was "that's a monster and I'm not going to get into the water crazy." It was more than double our boat! He was very close to the surface, engaged in a spectacular feeding frenzy. Being one of the three species of filter sharks that exist in the whole world, it opened and closed its imposing mouth, to filter large volumes of water and thus take its food.

It took several trips for me to overcome my fear, enter the water and find myself face to face with that giant. But it was very soon that I understood, these animals are docile and the threat that a person like me can pose to the shark is possibly greater than the other way around; I was convinced of this in the third outing that my friend Nirari and I made to Bahía de los Ángeles. During one of our innumerable tours we came across the Bat, that was the name that Abraham (a local tourist service provider who has been observing the species for almost 14 years) baptized the largest whale shark that we had seen in two years. It was 10 m long, and had a cape, yes you hear it a cape! Formed by fishing nets that somehow and in some place of its long migratory route it collected and that over time, like remoras, became one more accessory of its pectoral fins.

Whale shark ,, Bahía de los Angeles, BC.
(Photo: Nirari Cárdenas Torres)

How many kilometers traveled? That is the question that haunts my head as May approaches, the month in which the shark season begins in the bay. Another question that represents a mystery to me and that I hope to be able to answer one day is Where do they come from? From friendly waters of countries like Australia where Rhincodon typus, that's its scientific name, is protected by numerous laws? Or from hostile waters in countries like Taiwan where whale shark fin soup is a sought after and highly coveted delicacy?

There are few places around the world where the whale shark can be observed predictably and for long periods of time. In Mexico we are truly lucky, because the whale shark not only visits Bahía de los Ángeles, Baja California it can also be found in La Paz, Baja California Sur and near Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo. But of course! We could not hope for less, finally Mexico is one of twelve megadiverse countries on the entire planet.

The presence of this enigmatic fish is the basis of an important economic activity for the local communities it visits. Thanks to the fact that in the world there are many Chanócs, adventurers and tourists who like to interact with nature, ecotourism with whale shark, which is basically made up of observation and swimming trips, is becoming increasingly important. And it represents a true opportunity for the development of these communities, which, like most of the rural coastal communities of our country, are not exempt from great limitations.

Nor are they exempt from certain peculiarities that, at least to me, make me feel in a parallel universe. Just as in the fantastic Macondo of "One Hundred Years of Soledad" you can come across several generations of Buendías and many others of Seconds; in Bahía de los Ángeles you will find several generations of Maples, Smiths and Verdugos. Whenever I arrive at the bay, I feel as if time stands still, Wednesdays are confused with Sundays, people have their exclusive walk, the processes their own rhythm, you cannot force them and you certainly cannot accelerate them.

It was there, where we met Abraham, Hugo, Güero, Rafa, Igor, Joel, Chemin, Min, Rubén and many others. Some of them providers of tourist services, other coastal fishermen, all (to a greater or lesser extent) taught us to observe. Before starting your trip, look to the horizon, if above the Coronado Island volcano you can see some reed-shaped clouds then be careful because a North is about to enter. It is July, you can see those large groups of pelicans that at dawn begin an upward spiral flight, they are looking for the perfect air currents to be able to cross over the peninsular batholith and thus start their long pilgrimage through the Pacific. Now it's August, you can see those skinny pelicans, the ones that haven't grown at all since last month, possibly won't survive until next year. But that is the cycle of life and in nature only the strongest survives. Or at least that's the theory, especially when the man doesn't intercede.

To ensure that the strong whale shark survives, currently in the environmental sector, several alternatives are being analyzed that contribute in the best way to the protection and conservation of this formidable animal in our beautiful Mexico. So that, as today in the future, people who wish to, can have the privilege of observing it and the whale shark can continue to plow through the ocean waters to feed, reproduce and live.

The National Commission for Protected Natural Areas (CONANP), as a decentralized body of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, is doing its thing. The Directorate in Baja California of the Flora and Fauna Protection Area - Gulf of California Islands and the Flora and Fauna Protection Area - Yum Balám (both Natural Protected Areas attached to CONANP) are supporting local users of the communities , Bahía de los Ángeles in the first case and Isla Holbox in the second case, to organize the activity, and over time allow ecotourism with whale shark to mature, consolidate and become a true alternative of sustainable development for the communities .

Whale shark in Bahia de los Angeles, BC. (Photo: Natalie Rodríguez Dowdell)

During the time that I have been working on conservation projects, I have learned that conservation requires several elements. Among them, it requires vision, it requires not only own or collective will but even political will, but above all it requires conviction. If you have the first and allow yourself to visualize a future with whale sharks, if you have the second and are willing to listen and help and if you have the third and are one of those people who fights for their ideals, then you can also contribute to the conservation of this huge animal.

If you visit Bahía de los Ángeles and want to see a whale shark, I am going to give you some simple recommendations:
1) Hire a local tourist service provider to make your trip. Remember, that person has cared for the whale shark in their own way for many years. He has great empirical knowledge, knows the area like the back of his hand and will be able to guide you in the best way.
2) Follow the code of conduct for the activity, it was developed together with local users, with two purposes in mind. The first, that the activity is safe for you and the second, that it is of the minimum possible impact for the whale sharks.
3) Enjoy and appreciate the experience. You are one of the lucky few who knows and has been able to admire the whale shark.
4) Share your experience and tell a friend. Tell him, in Mexico we are very lucky, in Mexico we can observe and swim with the whale shark.

As you can see, these recommendations are really simple but believe me if you follow them you will contribute your bit for the conservation of the largest fish in the world, the whale shark.

The Baja California Directorate for the Flora and Fauna Protection Area - Gulf of California Islands has been working for several years with the local community of Bahía de los Ángeles, Baja California and the Faculty of Marine Sciences of the Autonomous University of Baja California to conserve whale shark and ensure that ecotourism with the species is for the benefit of the local community.
If you want to know more about what this Directorate has done and does about it, contact any of the following emails:
[email protected]
[email protected]

Video: Friendly gray whales (July 2022).


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