Swimming with Sharks in Belize
Swimming through the Caribbean Sea’s waters is one of the daily joys of life in Belize. There are plenty of ways to go about enjoying the waters, often bringing you in touch with all manner of sea creatures, including sharks. Sharks are a creature that can inspire either fear or fascination in the people who encounter them; indeed, there are even tours you can go on that allow you to swim with sharks. While you might initially think a guided swimming tour featuring sharks to be something crazy, it is important to stress that not all sharks are to be feared. Notably, these tours involve swimming around the territory of nurse sharks.
Nurse sharks (Ginglymostoma cirratum) are among the the most harmless sharks you will find in the Caribbean. While their name may seem odd, it is believed that it comes from the sucking noise they produce when sifting about for prey in the sand. These creatures vacuum the seabed and crush whatever they ensnare with the many uniquely-shaped teeth that inspired their scientific name, preferring fish and invertebrates.
Nurse sharks are slow-swimming bottom-dwellers that live around reefs, sand flats and the channels between mangrove islands. Some can reach lengths of up to 14 feet. The only time you would ever risk being harmed by a nurse shark is as a defense from being stepped upon or annoyed by brazen divers. Like most wildlife, nurse sharks will not annoy you if you do not annoy them. These sharks have a gray-brown coloring and their uniquely shaped fins occupy up to a quarter of their total body length. Notably, the skin of a nurse shark is smooth, rather than the typical rough texture that some chefs find suitable for sharpening their knives.
Nurse sharks fully mature between ages 15 and 20 and they can live up to 25. As ovoviviparous creatures, their eggs develop within the mother’s body, where the pups also hatch within; the mother later gives birth to them. Pregnancies lasts 6 months and a typical litter is an impressive 21-28 pups.
If you go swimming with these creatures, you will soon find your cares washing away like so much clear sea water. Unless they are being chummed, you will likely be able to enjoy the natural behavior of these creatures from a fair distance away. Just remind yourself to refrain from reaching out to touch them.