Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world, with the largest shark recorded measuring in at over 41 feet long. Their mouths alone are between 3 to 5 feet wide, and they can contain over 300 rows of teeth. Whale sharks are filter feeders, however, so these teeth are used mainly to consume plankton, though they also rely on shrimp, anchovies, sardines and mackerel. Whale sharks prefer warm, tropical waters, and they are very docile. Whale sharks typically live to be between 70 to 100 years old. Females can have up to 300 pups at one time, yet few live to maturity. The only known predator of the whale shark are humans. Whale sharks are listed as vulnerable because their population is decreasing, and it is feared the species will dwindle to endangered levels. Belize has laws to protect whale sharks and limit their exposure to human activity: It is against the law for humans to come any closer than 10 feet to a whale shark, and boats cannot be closer than 50 feet. There are many other rules and regulations to help maintain the safety and conservation of the whale sharks, and only licensed tour operators are allowed to bring tourists to view these majestic creatures.
For three months out of the year, whale sharks come to Gladden Spit and Silk Caye Marine Reserve, a protected area where sharks, rays, fish, turtles and other marine life call home. Nesting Terns call the Cayes home as well. Schools of fish spawn in these waters, and the food source attracts the whale sharks for feeding. The spawning happens around the full moon during March to June. The fish release enormous amounts of eggs that attract the whale sharks.
Please note that the locals greatly respect the ocean and all that call it home. While it may be common to ride or play with animals such as whale sharks in other parts of the world, this is completely prohibited in Belize. Please respect the fragility of the ocean habitat and the animals that call it home; don't ride, touch, or disturb these animals, even for a photo op.