sharks! Each year, between March and May, whale sharks converge on the Bay
Islands off the east coast of Honduras. The whale sharks stop
at Utila on their seasonal migrations to feed upon bait balls composed of
thousands of small silver bait fish (probably mackerel or sardines and a variety of other
The sharks are not the only large animals that stop to feed on the
bait fish. Snorkelers will often see tuna and other game fish attacking the bait
as well as occasional reef sharks.
The encounters are
brief but dynamic, with whale sharks swimming right through the writhing ball of
fish and occasionally stopping to vertical feed. After anywhere from a few
seconds to 20 minutes, the fish in the bait ball race away in their frenzy to
escape the predators. The sharks then descend into the cobalt blue water and
surface again in the distance as the bait ball reforms.
Other elasmos on Utila include occasional nurse sharks, spotted eagle rays and
southern stingrays. Inside the mangrove fringed lagoons there is a colony of
Caribbean whiptail stingrays but they are rather illusive animals.
I wouldn't be surprised to hear that Utila had begun to sink under the weight of
dive shops offering whale shark encounters. A stroll along the main street in
town will reveal dive shop after dive shop with large painted whale shark murals
and signs offering dirt cheap open water courses and cut throat
As appealing as this
may be to budget travelers, there is another side to Utila. Far from the
maddening crowds (but a mere 5 minute panga ride around the bay) there are a
number of rustic resorts offering whale shark encounters and all inclusive dive
packages to more serious divers.
Among these, Deep
Blue Resort has an excellent reputation. Their dedicated dive boats can whisk up
to 20 divers out to an endless supply of fringing reefs and then (during the
whale shark season) they motor out into shark territory and scout for
boiling patches of ocean that indicate a feeding event is taking place. Once the
divers have had their fill of snorkeling with the sharks, the crew return them
to the reef for more world class wall diving.
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