Whale Sharks in Roatan
By Lowri Gilbert
The Honduran coastline has a vast variety of marine life, in particular
the Bay Islands which are surrounded by pristine coral reef. Divers
and snorkelers flock to these islands to enjoy this outstanding natural
underwater world seeing a huge range of sea life, ranging from tiny
creatures to the largest fish in the world, the whale shark.
Typically the island of Utila is known as one of the best places in
the world to spot the whale shark, but this February visitors and
habitants of Roatan got to enjoy these fascinating creatures. One
of Roatans dive masters, who has been a resident of Roatan for one
and half years just now got her first encounter with this fish, after
frequently seeing them on the island of Utila.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) spend their time in tropical and temperate
waters around the world, and can grow to over 12 meters in length
making them the largest fish in the world. Their typical coloring
is dark grey with random white spots and lines on their body. Despite
their slightly daunting appearance they are the least fearsome of
the shark family and are not aggressive creatures, being fairly solitary
fish. As they move through the ocean at a slow speed of approximately
3 mph (5kph), they are using a filter system which provides them with
delicious zooplankton and small fish such as shrimp. Whale sharks
can be easy to distinguish from other sharks not just through their
moveable color but also because of their flat wide heads and humped
backs and broad mouths.
People sight these extraordinary creatures each year especially fishermen,
and this year many people had the opportunity of catching a glimpse
the whale shark in a period of about 5 days in Roatan. Dive shops
headed out in numbers to try and see the shark. An experienced diving
instructor describes the technique used by most of the boats to locate
a whale shark. They observe a pool of bubbles on the waters surface
created by lively fish surrounding the whale shark. Another sign that
a whale shark is present is seeing excited birds ascending into the
water to catch the sea life encircling the shark. The instructor depicts
the sight of the bubbling water as a pot of boiling water. Small fish
surround the whale shark because they also feed off the zooplankton.
The profusion of these fish attracted larger fish such as tuna. One
diver witnessed two other species of shark on his trip, the makos
shark and the bull shark, which came to the area to feed off the larger
fish in the same location.
The unusual numbers of whale sharks seen around Roatan are thought
to have been because of an irregular upwelling current which attract
nutrients to the surface of the water. Algae delight in these nutrients,
and zooplankton feed on the algae. The significant amount of zooplankton
attracted approximately 12 whale sharks within 5 days. Even though
they are solitary creatures they were all following the same current,
and therefore people were fortunate enough to see more than one of
these fascinating species.
By Lowri Gilbert
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