Whale Shark Research and Photography

Join an international & local expert team of whale shark researchers, marine biologists, photographers & filmers amongst the world's biggest aggregation of whale sharks peak season.

Accommodation at a premium all-inclusive hotel.

The experience of snorkelling with the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is not one you are likely to forget. These gentle plankton eating giants grow as large as 20 metres, display beautiful spot patterns from above, block out the light of day from below and often carry with them a living reef of fish life.

Swim Snorkel Dive  with Whale Shark Mexico Isla Mujeres Cancun afuera

This exclusive experience off the Caribbean coast of Mexico allows as small group of people to join an expert Aqua-Firma research team in search of whale sharks in the largest known aggregation of them on our Planet. We have been operating these trips for 9 years, during what has proven to be a peak period of the year. More than 400 whale sharks have been counted on aerial surveys and our research boat is sometimes surrounded by as many as 200 or more sharks. Photographic and video opportunities can be superb.

In addition to whale sharks, we also sometimes encounter aggregations a potentially 3rd species of Giant Manta Ray. Some days we have been in the water with 100 or more of them, as they feed at the surface, swim between whale sharks or barrel roll. Our partners at the Marine Magafauna Foundation (MMF) are fairly convinced that this Atlantic version of Giant Manta is a separate species, but to prove this we need a combination of above and below photo plus DNA evidence from the same individuals. Dr Andrea Marshall has joined us in trying to achieve this, but whilst we gained photos and DNA, we didn't quite get the combination we needed. Join us on our quests in 2024 & 2025!

Most of our encounters with whale sharks are in blue water, so visibility can be excellent. We often find Giant Mantas in areas further west, where Copepods can appear in huge abundance. Visibility is much more variable in these waters, but it can provide us with opportunities to snorkel with dolphins and their babies; and the bonito tuna which they feed on. In reaching these areas, we transit past clear shallow waters of the Contoy Island National Park, where we see often see dozens of green and loggerhead turtles swimming beneath us. We can snorkel with green turtles over shallow seagrass beds, with huge colonies of frigate birds and boobies circling the island to the east.

Swim Snorkel Whale Sharks Mexico Yucatan Isla Mujeres Cancun Dr Chris Rohner

Other marine life we find out in clear blue water can be schools of 30 or more Golden Cownose Rays, Bottlenose, Spinner and spotted Dolphins, chance encounters with Sail Fish and Marlin. As always with Mother Nature, every day is different. So far, we have never been a day at the afuera without a whale shark. When we find them amongst an abundance of food, sharks sometimes stop swimming and feed in a vertical position, creating a vortex sucking water in from the surface. These opportunities are wonderful for enabling us to focus on one individual in great detail and provide even better opportunities for film and photography than normal.

Whale Shark snorkel swim Mexico Cancun

Aqua-Firma's leadership team in 2024 will include one of the World's leading whale shark researchers, Dr Clare Prebble; Aqua-Firma Marine Scientist, Charlotte Caffrey; and two of Mexico's leading whale shark researchers. Your participation enables Aqua-Firma to help fund the work of these researchers, whose expert insights into our ever growing knowledge of whale shark behaviour and distribution is very much be part of this experience. Clare also happens to have taken hundreds of very high quality images of whale sharks and manta rays. Learning how to emulate the kind of images is as much a part of this experience as you wish - not only on location with free group and private photography workshops, but with advice we can provide before you go.

We will take a maximum of 8 people per team on research trips lasting up to 6 1/2 hours each day. Our first priority is to locate the whale sharks and once we do, you will be able to enter the water with them to assist in digital photo ID and recording behaviour and species which use the whale sharks as mobile habitats. Clare and our local team will conduct in water surveys which will include on occasion, skin biopsy samples for DNA and dietary analysis. We may also apply data tags such as a satellite location transmitter or gyro sensor.

In line with local regulations, we can put 2 guests in the water at a time with a researcher; whilst those waiting their turn can observe whale sharks from above - often with mouth half in and half out of the water.

Our trips begin and end at Cancun airport, from where we will transport you to a 5 star all-inclusive hotel at Playa Mujeres, which lies on a peninsula on the Yucatan mainland, opposite the far northern tip of Isla Mujeres. 

Whale shark encounters are best enjoyed by snorkeling since whale sharks feed here close to the surface. Snorkeling also permits faster movement on and off the boat and through the water.


Whale Shark Research & Photography

Day 1 - Arrival into Mexico

You can arrive into Cancun at any time. You will be met at the airport and transferred to our beachfront hotel along Playa Mujeres north of Cancun. You will be able to see Isla Mujeres lying directly out to sea.

Beach at Playa Mujeres Cancun Mexico

Check in time is 4pm, but if you arrive earlier then you will be able to store luggage and rest up in the hotel lounge facilities.

Tonight, we can use dinner as a chance to meet the research & Aqua-Firma trip leaders and others joining the trip. We will make this at 7pm. If you arrive later we can still arrange dinner for you and make every effort to bring you into the group.

Days 2 - 6

Breakfast available in the restaurant, or can also be provided to your room. A sandwich, snacks, fruit and cold drinks will be available onboard; but you will also have a stock of drinks and snacks in your room fridge and you can take these out with you as well if you wish.

Everyone will have the opportunity to head out a total of 4 times in search of whale sharks. These trips usually last up to 6 1/2 hours. Depending upon overall group size, we will either take everyone out days 2, 3, 5 & 6; or stagger your days on and off the boat.

Those not going out on any particular day will have the day free, with opportunities to relax and enjoy the beach, pools, well appointed gym, tennis courts, excellent spa, or free-use watersports which includes paddle boards, kayaks & sailing. You will be staying on an all-inclusive basis, so you can enjoy house drinks and food at any time, including room service.

Suite at Finest Resort Playa Mujeres Cancun Mexico

Some evenings we will put on talks by members of our international and local research team and provide film / photography advice for those keen. This can include advice on how to use of certain editing software if you wish - we will work around your interests in this.

Day 7

We can transfer you to Cancun airport at any pre-arranged time. Hotel check out is at 11am. If you need to stay longer, the hotel can store luggage for you and there are certain facilities you will still be able to use.


Enquire / Book 21 - 27 Jul 2024 - from US$ 3,590

hosted by MMF Whale Shark expert Dr Clare Prebble & Aqua-Firma Marine Scientist, Charlotte Caffrey. Premium all-inclusive price per person sharing. Single supplement US$490

Enquire / Book 20 - 26 Jul 2025 - US$ 3,690

hosted by Aqua-Firma Marine Scientist, Charlotte Caffrey. Premium all-inclusive price per person sharing. Single supplement US$550

Price includes:
All accommodation in Cancun
- *All food and drinks by the glass are included, as well as use of fitness & recreation facilities  and non-motorised watersports equipment should you wish to use it.
- 4 long days out (up to 61/2 hours) in search of whale sharks and Atlantic
  giant manta rays
- Airport transfers in Cancun
- Lunchtime snacks and cold drinks when out at sea
- Coffee machine in your room
- Free Wireless Internet at the hotel
- 24 hour room service
- Guidance and talks by whale shark experts
- Contributions to help fund research

*A surcharge may apply for premium drinks & food selections.

Not included:
International flights
- any activities or services not specified as included
- Snorkel kit
- Visa if needed
- Travel and personal effects insurance


  • Whale Shark stationary at the surface as it feeds vertically - photo: Ralph Pannell
  • A potential 3rd species of Manta Ray: the Atlantic Giant Manta
  • Whale Shark rising to the surface to feed vertically
  • In amongst a school of Atlantic Giant Manta Rays - underwater photography by Dr Chris Rohner (MMF)
  • Just what we are looking for- a whale shark dorsal fin breaking the surface
  • Swimming with a Whale Shark in Mexico
  • Whale Shark swimming beneath our research boat in Mexico
  • Looking out to sea from our base at Playa Mujeres

Whale Sharks

Aqua-Firma Biggest Donor to Marine Megafauna Foundation Whale Shark Programme

Aqua-Firma Research Group Frees Manta from Hooks & Line

Whale Sharks in Stereo for First Time

Trip reviews - Mexico

  • Swimming with Whale Shark Mexico research
  • Snorkeling to take a Whale Shark ID photo
  • Preparing a Whale Shark skin biopsy
  • Snorkeling beside Whale Shark feeding vertically in Mexico
  • Whale Shark surface feeding Mexico
  • Our Finest 5-star Resort base at Playa Mujeres
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