Whale Shark Research on the Belize Barrier Reef
Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
Gladden Spit is a promontory also known as "Point of
reef" or the elbow. The site has a short sloping shelf that
drops off steeply at about 130 ft / 40 m to over 2,000 m
(6,600 ft) depth within 10 km of the reef. Gladden Spit
hosts over 25 species of reef fish that aggregate to
spawn and a seasonal congregation of whale sharks.
Declared on 18 May 2000 at the Silk Cayes, and now
co-managed by Fisheries and the NGO Friends of Nature,
the marine reserve covers 10,523 hectares and includes a
general use zone, a no-take zone around the Silk Cayes,
a conch restoration zone and a whale shark and reef fish
spawning aggregation conservation zone.
In Belize, whale sharks seasonally visit Gladden Spit, a
promontory midway along the Belize Barrier Reef to
feed on the spawn of aggregating snappers-the only
place this has been documented and is known to occur
worldwide. Due to the importance of both snapper
spawning aggregations and associated whale sharks,
Gladden Spit and the Silk Cayes were declared a
marine reserve on 18 May 2000 (Gazette No.
68/2000), and whale shark tourism regulations were
drafted to regulate the increasing number of whale
shark tours. The reserve is co-managed by Friends of
Nature and The Belize Department of Fisheries.
Relatively slow moving animals, whale sharks
are curious but docile. At Gladden Spit whale sharks
will readily approach boats, snorkelers and divers if
they do not feel threatened. They will often remain
close to divers and snorkelers and even boats if not
chased or harassed. To ensure that whale sharks are not
harmed by tourism or boating activities in their main
aggregation zone, please follow the guidelines below to
good whale shark etiquette as summarized from the
Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes marine reserve regulations.