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Spotted! It’s Whale Shark Season in the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On July 29, 2013 by

whale shark

A whale shark swims at the West Flower Garden Bank in the Gulf of Mexico. Credit: Ryan Eckert / Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

It’s prime time for spotting whale sharks in the Gulf of Mexico!

Whale shark sightings in the Gulf are recorded and tracked by the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi. According to their data set, 85 percent of sightings in the Gulf since 2002 have occurred from June to October and peaked in July.

Take a look at the map below from our Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem: A Coastal and Marine Atlas to see where sightings have occurred in the past.

whale shark map from Gulf AtlasWhale sharks have been observed in groups of more than 100 individuals near a salt dome formation called Ewing Bank off the coast of Louisiana. Although whale sharks can be found in many seas around the world, aggregations this large are rare.

If you happen to have the fortune of spotting a whale shark, you can contribute to the ongoing effort to better understand this species by reporting it to the whale shark sightings database. Little is known about whale sharks’ distribution, movement and behavior in the Gulf, so tracking these animals can increase our understanding of their role in the Gulf ecosystem.

Each whale shark’s spots are unique and photos can be used to identify and track individual animals throughout their lifetime. If you plan to be on the water in the Gulf over the next few months, keep your eyes peeled for these gentle giants. Growing to over 45 feet, they are the largest fish in the world.