Artist and conservationist Robert Wyland perfectly described the earth’s largest bodies of waters when he said, “The world’s finest wilderness floats beneath the waves.” It’s so true! The thousands of sea creatures and plants mixed with the vastly uncharted geography that lies hidden below the water’s surface creates a wonderfully diverse wilderness. As humans, we must savor the moments when we are lucky enough to catch glimpses of the beauty that exists in this watery world.
A few folks in Northwest Florida made sure to do just that!
During a recent boating excursion off the Destin coast, the Worley family experienced what could be a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a whale shark. After catching sight of the animal’s fin, they used a Go Pro to record the amazing experience. Throughout the video, you can hear the family’s exclamations of awe as they watch the whale shark roaming contentedly through the pristine waters. They shared the video online, and as of August 20, 2020, it has already been viewed over 70,000 times! While here on vacaiton, Joe Murphy was lucky enough to capture some pretty incredible images with his drone, which too have gone viral! Everyone wants to see this majestic creature for themselves!
If you’re planning an Destin vacation and you’re a whale shark novice, you might have a few questions about whale sharks. Are they commonly found in the Gulf of Mexico? How likely are you to see one? Are they dangerous? We get it, and we’ll answer those questions and more below!
Here’s everything you need to know about whale sharks.
What are Whale Sharks?
Whale sharks are the largest shark species, and the largest fish alive today. Their scientific name is Rhincodon typus. Despite the name, these sharks have no relation to actual whales. They are typically around 40 feet in length and weigh approximately 11 tons. That’s 22,000 pounds! While whale sharks give birth to live young, no one has ever actually observed this. According to the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF), “Where pupping occurs and where the youngest animals situate remains a mystery, and are very rarely found.” They might be big animals, but they’re apparently good at hide-and-seek when they don’t want to be found!
Whale Shark Characteristics
These gentle giants are characterized by a gray-brown color with white-colored spots, and each whale has its own distinguishable pattern – kind of like human fingerprints. Whale sharks are filter feeders, meaning they use their gills to filter food for nourishment. Although the sharks have thousands of tiny teeth, they are not used for eating. Plankton is the go-to meal for whale sharks, although they are also known to eat squid, krill, and small fish. Additionally, unlike other sharks, they don’t use their tails for swimming; rather, they swing their bodies side to side as they glide through the water. They are not lightning fast swimmers and move at speeds of less than 5 km/hour.
Are Whale Sharks Dangerous?
Nope! Their size might be intimidating, but whale sharks are not dangerous and pose no threat to humans. And while a whale shark’s mouth can measure up to just under 5 feet, they are not aggressive. National Geographic has even reported that these docile creatures “sometimes allow swimmers to hitch a ride.”
Where are Whale Sharks Found?
Whale sharks prefer warm water, which is why they can be found in tropical areas. It’s no surprise, then, that they have been spotted in the Gulf. Although they are usually seen roaming the oceans on their own, multiple might congregate in areas with a high concentration of food. June to September is whale shark season in the Gulf, and that is likely the time you may be able to see one – just like the Worley family! Definitely not a bad experience for a summer day or while on vacation.
Whale Sharks are an Endangered Species
Like many of the world’s largest animals, whale sharks are an endangered species. Unfortunately, their meat, fins, and oil are highly valued market commodities, which is a threat to their population numbers. Accidental capture and whale shark tourism pose a threat as well. To combat this, conservation organizations such as the WWF continue to study whale sharks and promote whale shark education.
Next time you’re in Destin, be on the lookout for these amazing sea giants. Who knows, maybe you’ll get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to traverse the waves with a whale shark, just like the Worleys! Even if you don’t spot a whale shark, though, there are still countless opportunities to see other sea life. Dolphins, turtles, jellyfish, and fish are just a few that you might find. You might even get to see a whale in Destin! Humpback whales, fin whales, sperm whales, sei whales, and orca whales have been spotted in the Gulf.
Of course, in order to share the waters with these awesome creatures, you need to be here! So, be sure to book your Destin vacation soon. Ocean Reef Resorts has the perfect rental waiting for you – you’ve just got to make your reservation!