Whale sharks visit La Paz, Mexico from Fall to Spring every year. They come for the food that gathers in the bay due to prevailing northeasterly winds. The activity has been a source of income for La Paz for around 25 years, with a real boom in the past 12. These early touristic activities helped support science by frequently taking scientists aboard on their outings.
Even 7 years ago, swimming with whale sharks in La Paz, Baja was a chaotic, reckless activity that resulted not only in injured animals, but in unhappy visitor experiences. The activity has been regulated since 2016. In the past 6 years, there has been a concerted effort to improve the operation of tourism activities by prioritizing the protection of the sharks above all else.
This has necessitated the engagement of all actors in a dynamic dialogue. There have been many experiments along the way, some hilarious, many frustrating, all controversial; but today, we have a well run whale shark viewing activity, and other countries are studying what we’ve done, here, in La Paz, Baja.
Currently, the Whale Shark Turn System works thus – There are 4 turns a day, and each turn has 14 spots. So, 56 skiffs can run whale shark viewing activities a day. There are 83 permits; not everyone gets a turn every day. Turns can be booked up to 14 days in advance, or the day of the activity. Any booking not done 2 weeks in advance will have to take its chances and hope they get a turn on the day of their trip. Don’t be upset if your tour operator cancels on the day of the activity, we’re all just playing Whale Shark Roulette.
There must be at least 10 sharks in the area for activities to commence. Regulations allow operations to start on October 1st. This year, activities didn’t start until mid-November due to an absence of individuals. Activities officially end on April 30th, but the whale sharks’ seasonal visits seem to be getting shorter and shorter, with whale sharks leaving the bay as early as March in some years.
Supervision of the activity is stringent. There are Park Rangers out on the water observing activities, checking permits and supervising operations. There is also an extra-long range camera that can observe skiffs miles away as they are working with groups and sharks. There are stiff penalties and fines for breaking the rules.
Whale sharks are closely monitored in the bay, as is their health. There are two permanent research projects which study the local population. There is also a monitoring effort, on behalf of Tour Operators, for boat strikes. There has been a decrease in the presence of injured animals over the past few years, which hopefully means that all our hard work has paid off. Everyone’s priority is, and has been, the sharks’ wellbeing, which hopefully translates into prosperity for our community. It has not always been a fun ride, but we have come so far together, and we keep improving.
Currently, Whale Shark Tour Operators are represented by a 6 member Representative Committee, headed by Nezahualpilli Tovar. Our very own founder, JJ Puebla is a member of the Committee. Alongside our government partners, we are trying to properly manage our activity so that viewing whale sharks does not negatively affect them. We have taken huge strides, and now we have a strictly regulated and monitored activity.
Permanent Whale Shark Research Projects in La Paz, Baja:
Don’t let the above discussion discourage you from coming and swimming with Whale sharks in La Paz, Baja. It is still a thrilling, once in a lifetime experience, and here at Eco Migrations, we will do our utmost to ensure you have a great trip. We handle the hassle, so you can enjoy the ride!!
Eco Migrations’ Whale Shark Tour. The adventure of a lifetime! Book now