Besides the beauty of the ocean at our front door, we have wonders beneath the sea which, on rare occasions, present themselves for viewing.
It is well known that Whale Sharks swim off the waters of the Island of Utila. The Whale Shark is the world’s largest fish. The most common size seen in the waters around Utila is between approximately 6m and 10m (10 ft. and 33ft.), weighing around 15-20 tons.
Although more frequent in the months March-April and August-September, the Whale Shark is regularly sighted around the Island of Utila. Unlike dolphins or other fish which tend to school or travel in pods, Whale Sharks are solitary. However, it is not uncommon for 5 or more singular Whale Sharks to be sighted in a single day along the northern shores of Utila. It is thought that Utila to be home to an annual rendezvous of these presumably migratory creatures who have been recorded traveling 8,000 miles.
One possible reason for the congregation of these sharks around Utila is oceanography. Being located on the extreme northern margin of the Honduran shelf and unlike the other Bay Islands which are separated from the shelf area by a deep-fault controlled trench, the tropical island has shallow banks to the south and a very large bank to the north. Whale Sharks, however, have been sighted off the coast of Guanaja, but not with any regularity.
Just last week an extraordinarily rare occurrence took place in the water surrounding Guanaja. A pod of about 8 Pilot Whales was sighted off the shallower waters of Soldado Beach. The islanders were treated to an exceptional sight as these whales are generally found in deep water.
Long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) are one of the largest members of the dolphin family. The pilot whale, like the Killer Whale, is a member of the dolphin family, and is second only to the Killer Whale in size. Males can reach lengths of about 25 ft (7.6 m) and weigh as much as 5,000 lbs (2,300 kg), while females are generally smaller, reaching lengths of up to 19 ft (5.8 m) and weighing as much as 2,900 lbs (1,300 kg). They have a bulbous melon head with no discernable beak. Their dorsal fin is located far forward on the body and has a relatively long base. Their body color tends to be black or dark brown with a large gray saddle behind the dorsal fin. They are polygynous (males have more than one mate) and are often found in groups with a ratio of one mature male to about every eight mature females. Males generally leave their birth school, while females may remain in theirs for their entire lifetime.
They prefer warmer tropical and temperate waters and can be found at varying distances from shore but typically in deeper waters. Areas with a high density of squid are their primary foraging habitats. The short-finned pilot whales are found primarily in deep waters throughout tropical and subtropical areas of the world. There are four recognized stocks in the U.S.: West Coast, Hawaii, Northern Gulf of Mexico, and Western North Atlantic.
Partly because of their social nature, pilot whales are often involved in mass strandings. In this century, mass strandings of as many as several hundred pilot whales at one time have been recorded. Although no one knows why these beachings occur, some may result from persistence to keep the group together. Other reasons may involve mis-navigation when following prey, when traveling (possibly due to irregularities in the magnetic field), or possible parasitic infections resulting in neurological disorders.
We do not know why these beautiful creatures were so close to shore and a group of boaters spread out along the length of the shoreline attempting to stop the whales from beaching, if that is what they actually intended. I must assume the effort was a success as eventually all the boaters left to go home after taking the photos you can see them at - just cut and paste into your search engine:
Another creature seen off Guanaja is the Hammer Head Shark. Hammerheads are found worldwide in warmer waters along coastlines and continental shelves. There are nine known species of hammerhead ranging from 3 ft. to 30 feet in length. all the species have a projection on each side of the head that gives it a resemblance to a flattened hammer. The shark’s eyes and nostrils are at the tips of the extensions. I have had reports from friends who actually saw a Hammerhead from their boat but, to date, I have not glimpsed this creature.
I have experienced green moray eels up close and personal on several scuba dives off Southwest Cay and, thankfully, my husband was there with his camera to record the event.
The reefs of the Bay Islands are a treasure trove for photographers; lobster, cleaner shrimp, sea anemone, nurse shark, grouper, Angel fish, turtles, sting rays of several varieties, and the list goes on and on.
To look out on the water after a rain, on a calm day is to see the ever presence beauty that lies just below the surface and all the unexplored areas that are to be found is a delight. The colors of the water from deep blue to aquamarine to a greenish tint are a sight to behold and with the sun rising in the morning lighting the sky a dusty peach color, the spectacle is amazing.
Nature - ain’t she wonderful?