The biggest fish in the sea are almost a constant fixture in the Tofo area, drawn as they are by the seemingly constant availability of zooplankton, which is their principal food source.
A fully grown whale shark can reach almost 20m in length and 34 tons in weight, by the time they reach full maturity at about 30 years old.
But these leviathans of the sea are rarely if ever seen in the Tofo area, instead the region appears to be a critical one for juveniles in the range from 5-10m.
It seems that the ready availability of zooplankton in the Tofo area plays a role in the overall maturation of whale sharks, which is why they migrate to the area.
But this theory has yet to be proven…
Diving Mozambique: Tofo & Whale Shark Migration
Whale sharks are solitary oceanic creatures and very little is currently known about their overall migration patterns.
They do however, seem to be hard-wired to know where & when to aggregate for significant feeding events, such as the coral spawning at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia.
Or the zooplankton storm near Isla Holbox off the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsular in Mexico.
Data collected by the Marine Mega Fauna Foundation in Tofo indicates that around 70% of the 600+ whale sharks that have been identified in the area, using the Interactive Individual Identification System, are transient and are never seen again.
Combining that information with the sizing data would indicate that the Tofo corridor is a very important transit & feeding area for juvenile whale sharks as they progress through the growth cycle to full maturity.
Diving Mozambique: Whale Shark Safaris and the Code of Conduct
Whale sharks are a true shark, but they act like a whale by spending a great deal of time at the surface where they cruise along in search for their sole source of sustenance – plankton.
While underwater sightings do occur in the Tofo area, the easiest way to interact with them is on a whale shark “safari”.
The safaris are conducted in the afternoons, after most of the scuba diving for the day is over, and the rigid inflatable boats (RIB’s) are available.
The interaction is done by crew of the the RIB’s searching the area just to the south of Tofo where the whales sharks are often seen both cruising and feeding on plankton.
Once a shark has been spotted the people on the safari get their fins, masks & snorkels ready and the RIB is positioned ahead of the approaching shark as per the Code of Conduct developed jointly between the dive operators and the Marine Megafauna Foundation.
The objective is to minimize the impact on the whale sharks whilst providing the best opportunity for those on the safari to see the magnificent creatures as close as possible.
Experience has shown that if the boat gets too close to the whale shark it will resort to its standard defensive mechanism known as “banking” whereby it turns its back, which has a has a very thick hide about 150mm (6″) thick, to protect itself while it dives out of the way.
The Code of Conduct calls for the RIB’s to cut their engines and when the shark is about 20m from it, the snorkellers are given the signal to quietly enter the water and wait for the star of the show!
No touching is allowed and the whale sharks do not seem to be at all bothered by the presence of the snorkellers and simply keep on cruising in search of plankton.
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