Sharks of Belize – Whale Shark, Reef Sharks, Nurse Sharks and Bull Sharks
There may be more than 360 species of sharks in the oceans of the world and Belize’s pristine waters, magnificent barrier reef, atolls and mangrove estuaries are home to a few of these. Among the sharks of Belize seen scuba diving in Belize are the black tip shark, bull shark, lemon shark, nurse shark, reef shark, occasional hammerhead and the migratory whale shark. In southern Belize we have a variety of geographical formations such as deep walls, upwelling currents, and fore reefs that make it highly probably during you’re stay you’ll get at least 1 type of shark encounter.
One fascinating shark is the lemon shark most commonly found in the shallower reef portions near Placencia, Belize and the rest of the Caribbean. Lemon sharks like to rest on the bottom near shore areas but may dive up to 1,300 feet in search of food. Their unusual color sets them apart from most other sharks. Lemon sharks have a yellowish tinged skin that provides good camouflage over the sandy bottoms of shallow water regions of the reef and islands.
No dive in Belize is complete without seeing the seemingly sluggish and now protected nurse shark that thrives in the moderate temperatures of the back reef, fore reef and drop-off zones around Placencia. Nurse sharks can be distinguished by the two barbels on the upper lip. Rocks and corals offer ledges and caves, as shelter, for these docile species who feed on conch, lobster, crabs, and fishes. Often they can be found lying on a sandy patch in a channel or a sandy patch surrounded by patch reef which are plentiful near Placencia, with our spur and groove reef formations and our expert dive guides will take time to look for these on your scuba dives. Since nurse sharks mate multiple times with different partners, pups in the same litter may be the product of several fathers. Juvenile nurse sharks flourish in the abundant mangrove patches on the hundreds of secluded islets and islands off the Belize reefs where the thick root system provides protection from large predatory fish. You are almost certain to see these during our Silk Cayes dive and snorkel tour as well as other sharks of Belize.
Blacktip sharks have been seen making leaps out of the water to attack schools of small fish. They can easily be identified by the black tips on most of their fins are are often sighted off the walls and reefs around Placencia, Belize. Blacktip sharks are a coastal species rather than ocean going. They spend the first few months of their lives in shallow water and then migrate to deeper water, but most adults are found in water depths of less 100 feet/30 meters.
The reef shark, closely related to the blacktip shark, is one of the most commonly encountered sharks in the Belize waters and Caribbean Sea. It is usually found in shallow water on or around coral reefs and is at the drop-offs at the reefs’ outer edges. Reef sharks are usually found in water depths of less than 100 feet/30 meters and are more active at night.
Perhaps of one the most impressive shark of Belize to see, snorkel and scuba dive with, is the whale shark who visits during the months of March to June to feed on the spawn of the cubera, mutton and dog snappers at Gladden Spit, Placencia. Measuring up to 40 feet and weighing up to 15 tons, whale sharks are one of the largest fish of the ocean. Although huge in size, whale sharks are docile and curious. These gentle giants are always a real treat to see and swim with at Gladden Spit off the coast of Placencia, and please see our snorkeling and scuba dive section for the best dates to snorkel and swim with whale sharks. It is common to see other varieties of sharks at Gladden Spit during the spawning aggregation feeding on the snapper.
The hammerhead is always a wonder to see when scuba diving, and these are occasionally seen during a stay in Placencia and diving the south of Belize. Hammerheads are known to frequent along the edge of the continental shelf in the Atlantic, and the shelf cuts into the south of Belize near Placencia. No matter how many times seen, divers marvel at the hammerhead shark’s peculiar head shape also known as Cephalofoil. Hammerhead sharks have their eyes located at the side of its T-shape head which also gives sharks lift. This helps the shark to twist and turn as it chases its prey. Hammerheads hunt near the sea floor looking for prey such as fish, octopus, squid, crabs and lobster. Relying on the sensors on its head to detect electric signals, the hammerhead finds its favorite prey stingrays sometimes hiding under the sand.
Every time you scuba or snorkel near Placencia, Belize there is a possibility of some type of shark encounter. Healthy reef systems, garden beds of corals interspersed with sandy sea bottoms, and dramatic reef drop-offs into the ocean is the seascape of a colossal aquarium teeming with a large diversity of sharks, fishes and other aquatic life. All our dive guides and trips adhere to guidelines to ensure safety of all marine animals. Furthermore, Belize offers best practice in marine conservation and management. Sharks are included as species of interest and concern into eight of Belize’s 13 marine protected areas management plans. For all these reasons, sharks are to be found in Belize’s healthy reefs.