Giants in the Ocean: The Whale Shark in La Paz

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RJ Archer
It is a whale or a shark? The whale shark is definitely a shark and it’s the largest fish in the ocean, reaching up to 60 feet in length. They feed very close to the surface and this behavior allows select parts of the world, like La Paz, to develop tourism around them. While they live in all tropical and subtropical seas, they are protected at the international level and they are classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. In the Gulf of California there are four sites where whale sharks aggregate. Juvenile whale sharks from 6 to 21 feet in length aggregate to feed in the coastal waters of Los Angeles Bay and La Paz Bay.  In the waters of the Bays the smaller whale sharks find ample food and protection against their predators. Dr. Dení Ramírez, Director of Whale Shark Mexico, studies whale sharks by photo-identification and has proven that approximately 20% of the juveniles move from one of these sites to the other. Los Angeles Bay is a protected area and a similar designation for La Paz Bay would enhance regional whale shark conservation. In addition to the juveniles found in the two bays, pregnant females aggregate in oceanic waters near Espiritu Santo Island and the Gorda Banks, This only happens in a few special places around the world. Research by Whale Shark México has revealed that as many as 35% of the whale sharks  in La Paz Bay return from one year to the next. Imagine swimming with the world´s biggest fish, a whale shark, and then returning the next year to swim with the same individual shark! This happens in our bay!
Sadly, the research also shows that up to 67% of juveniles sharks have been hit by boats! Swimming with a whale shark is a fabulous experience but it is a regulated activity to protect both the animals and the snorkelers. Before booking your trip, make sure the service provider is authorized by SEMARNAT. They will show you how to avoid harming the sharks and how to avoid putting yourself at risk. When you venture into the whale shark areas on your own, make sure these gentle giants are not harmed by your boat. Please understand and obey the whale shark sighting and transit rules for the area. The research being conducted by Dr. Ramírez and her team is critical to understanding more about these amazing creatures and how they can be protected. You can support this project by making donations to Whale Shark Mexico or by “adopting” a whale shark and taking part in a research trip.
It’s not often that the public has the opportunity to participate in research of such a high caliber and during the trip you will learn more about the field of whale shark research and have the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with these gentle giants. The research is done by snorkeling so you do not need to be a diver to take part.
Our oceans need our help. Supporting the current generation of scientists will help inspire our youth to follow in their footsteps and insure that the next generation will be able to appreciate and enjoy the oceans as we are able to do today.
For more information, please visit this web site:

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