These behemoths can grow up to 40 feet long, can weigh up to 20 tons and can live to over 100 years old.
Probably the most common question asked about swimming with whale sharks is "Will they bite?" And the answer is no. Unlike most species of sharks, they are filter feeders, not hunters.
As filter feeders, the whale shark's snack of choice is krill and plankton, and occasionally small fish that get scooped up into their gigantic mouths.
Whale sharks are inherently solitary souls, only meeting up briefly to mate. The largest groups are found off eastern Mexico in the summer when the krill is bountiful. The season starts in May and runs to September.
Stick with well-vetted operators that only take small groups and guarantee closely guided snorkels with the animals. Eight to ten passengers per boat is ideal, with one guide for every two swimmers in the water at a time.
The chemicals from the shampoo, perfume, deodorant and sunscreen we use make their eyes sting. They are very sensitive to that, and will dive down deep to get away from you if you're wearing scents.
Whale shark tails can swipe a person pretty hard, so your guide will have you jump in as close to the head as possible and ask you to swim fast to keep up. And never ever try to touch one!
In 2016, these creatures were classified as an officially endangered species by the IUCN Red List. Scientists are beginning to track them with satellite tags, and non-profit groups are seeking ways to better protect them.
Encourage responsible eco-tourism that promotes awareness. You can also virtually adopt a whale shark through organizations like the World Wildlife Federation and Wildbook.
Isla Mujeres has an annual Whale Shark Festival each summer to celebrate these colossal creatures. It’s a fun, family-friendly five-day fest with lots of local cultural entertainment and exciting events.