A funny thing happened while Roatan was passing through a heat wave and tourist drought in August. The place became swarming with whale sharks.
“I know personally of 20 sightings since the last week of July,” said Caroline Power, who says she spotted and swam with at least six of the majestic creatures between August 1 and 8. Jennifer Keck said she swam with whale sharks seven times in early August, although she thinks it may have been all with the same animal.
“There are definitely more than four or five of them hanging around,” said Nicholas Bach of the Roatan Marine Park. Normally, he said, people report seeing one or two whale sharks a season off Roatan, usually in July. But this August, he said, “there’s been a lot more over a prolonged time.”
Within the Bay Islands, whale sharks are usually most commonly seen off Utila in February and March. Local experts are befuddled as to why so many have suddenly shown up off Roatan.
“I don’t have a clue,” said Bach. “It’s something in the water.”
Bach pointed out that sperm whales, also rare in Roatan waters, have been sighted recently as well (Power swam with one the same day she spotted two whale sharks). He also said there had been “a lot more tuna boils.”
Tuna boils occur when there is an upwelling of small bait fish to the surface and the tuna swarm to feed on them, causing the surface water to look like it’s boiling.
Power said the whale sharks she saw were feeding on blue sprats, leading her to suspect that local coral may be spawning, attracting the sprats, which in turn attract the whale sharks. She noted that coral spawn off Belize in July.
“That would be my best guess,” she said. “But it’s odd.”
Power added that the annual August migration of whale sharks off the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico had shifted about 100 miles south recently.
Whatever the reason they’re here, now may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to strap on a mask and snorkel and jump in the water to see them.