Playing Hide & Seek with Belize’s Whale Sharks in Placencia

by Carolee Chanona

Got whale sharks on the brain? If you fancy yourself a swim with these gentle giants—an experience as exhilarating as it is otherworldly—then take the plunge in Southern Belize. Whether you visit Southern Belize as an avid diver, a nature enthusiast, or a novice snorkeler, the local sites won’t disappoint. Hit Belize’s Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve from March through June, if you’re up for a little hide and seek with the giant yet docile Whale Sharks. That’s when they gather to feast on the spawn of the various fish, including snapper and mutton, that aggregate here to do their thing around the full moon. Dive in and humbly observe as a whale shark floats away into the open sea—its body resembling a marine Milky Way. Go in pursuit of an unforgettable experience, thanks to the experience and let’s face it, luck, of Splash Dive Center.

Snapper Spawning Season in Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes Marine Reserve

Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve in Belize | DIANA WILSON:SHUTTERSTOCK

Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve in Belize | DIANA WILSON/SHUTTERSTOCK

Spotting a single one of these massive fish is normally a rare treat, but the chase has never been sweeter. Regardless if you sight a whale shark or not, you’re up-close and personal with its shimmering offshore Cayes and Barrier Reef—the second largest in the world.

Interacting with these giant filter feeders is only permitted through licensed operators and access is tightly controlled, allowing a limited number of snorkelers and swimmers in the water with a shark at any one time. Local operator Splash Dive Center uses multiple monitoring systems, including direct collaboration with the marine park’s conservation rangers, to ensure the best possible whale shark experience in Belize. Since their visits in Belize are depending on spawning snapper and grouper aggregations in the South, take advantage of the last full moon windows:

  • May 26 – June 7

  • June 24 – July 6

Because the whale sharks in the Gladden Spit & Silk Cayes Marine Reserve are not fed by humans, as is the case in other parts of the world, they show very little interest in swimmers and snorkelers. Instead, they display completely natural feeding behavior (like their characteristic filter-feeding) that is fascinating to observe. 

Visiting Belize

Belize reopened its international airport on October 1, 2020, and now, travelers can visit, whether you’re vaccinated or come with a negative COVID test in hand. Precautions are still in place, though, including a 10:00 pm curfew on Sunday through Wednesday (which extends to midnight Thursday – Saturday) and national mask requirements. And yes, Belize takes both seriously. The dually Central American and Caribbean country prepares to open its land borders for recreational/touristic purposes only on May 31, 2021.

Learn more about visiting Belize here, about booking a Gold Standard Hotel here, and Splash Dive Center’s whale shark package here.

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