Whale Shark Research on the Belize Barrier Reef
Whale Shark Tourism Guidelines
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.
TOUR GUIDES, BOATMEN AND FISHERMEN:
· All whale shark tour guides must hold a valid whale shark license
· Only 8 snorkelers per snorkel guide permitted
· Only 8 divers per licensed divemaster
· All boats should approach whale sharks at idle
speed or no more than 2 knots/hour, and remain at
least 50 feet (15 m) away from the animal(s)
· Do not block the whale shark's path with the boat.
· Discharge your passengers 50 feet (15 m) from the
· To avoid harassing the sharks and to maximize
safety, tour boats should keep a distance of 200ft
(60m) away from each other during a whale shark
tour with snorkelers/divers in the water
· When the whale shark(s) has gone, have all snorkelers/
divers on the surface get back into the boat
· When divers and snorkelers have returned to the
boat, please leave the area to give other tour guides
and guests an opportunity with a whale shark
· All snorkelers and divers on whale shark tours
must be out of the water by 5:30 pm
SNORKELERS & DIVERS:
· Make sure to get a whale
shark interaction briefing
from your whale shark licensed
· Do not touch, ride or
chase after a whale shark (a finable offense!)
· If diving, remain above 80 ft/24 m to avoid disturbing
reef fish spawning aggregations
· Remain at least 10 ft/3 m away from the shark
· Do not block the whale shark's path
· When your tour guide tells you to leave the water,
please pay attention and get in the boat as quickly
as you can
· Most importantly RELAX and let the whale
shark approach you, it's only curious!
PLEASE BE CONSIDERATE...
By adhering to these guidelines you will have a better
chance of interacting with a whale shark without annoying
it or chasing it away. This will ensure that your
fellow tour guides and tourists are also able to experience
this wonderful interaction on a repeated basis.
ARE YOU A THREAT TO A WHALE SHARK?
Research in Belize and Australia's Ningaloo Reef has
shown that whale sharks will tell you very clearly
when they are feeling uncomfortable around you by:
· Banking or "giving you the shoulder" when near you
· Noticeably increasing its swimming speed
· Moving away from you & rapidly diving deep
· So best to let the whale shark check you out!