Deep Blue Utila

2015 Whale Shark research weeks

  • April 4 - 11
  • April 11 - 18
  • April 18 - 25
  • April 25 - May 2

These are very special weeks and an exciting time, for 4 weeks every year we invite our customers to participate in this special project. For more info, please contact


We only allow 18 guests per week at this time to maximize everyone’s chance of seeing the whale sharks, also we will have a second boat out spotting while the guests are diving so even when you are diving we will be looking for them for you. All normal diving, 3 dives a day will be conducted along with the whale shark research.

We invite Whale Shark specialists from other parts of the world, most who we work with, they will be on the boats with customers and giving talks in the evenings.

During your weeks stay there will be 2 or 3 talks in the evenings.

All normal diving will be conducted but we will spend more time looking for whale sharks as this is the object of these weeks.

If you have still or video cameras we will explain how to photo and video whale sharks so that your pictures can be entered in the database, this will help researchers worldwide.

You will be shown the methods of research that we are using and how the whale shark world is working together to find out more about these amazing creatures. We will ask customers to fill in sightings forms that will assist our research. If you are interested in these weeks book early we do have many returning guests that come back every year and they book up very quickly.

Past Whale Shark Specialists

Past Whale Shark Specialists that have visited Deep Blue and assist us with our studies.

Dr Rachel Graham of Marine Meganet & WCS

Biologist Dr Rachel Graham, PhD, has been studying whale sharks with the Wildlife Conservation Society since 1998 in the waters of Belize, Cuba, Seychelles, Indonesia Kenya, India Sea of Cortez, Mexico and Madagascar. She has spent over 1,400 hours in the water with whale sharks and has had over 800 encounters with these famous gentle giants; she has been one of the founders of whale shark research in this area.
She also works with Sharks, Mantas Rays and Goliath Groupers to name just a few and has recently started Marine Meganet.

Through Marine Meganet she has introduced an acoustic array of receivers, in this area she has them in place in Belize, Mexico, Cuba and we have worked with her putting them in place here in Honduras, this will help to find out more about the movement of whale sharks along the Meso American reef system, she has also set up receivers in many other countries including Micronesia, and Kenya and the Pacific side of Mexico.

“Whale sharks,” says Dr. Graham, “are iconic creatures that put our relatively small lives and aspirations into perspective. They fly the banner for many less charismatic species and their movements weave a pattern across our tropical ocean landscapes, linking sites and making them true ambassadors of the seas. I truly believe that the world would be a poorer place without whale sharks, which is why we must protect them.”


Dr Eric Hoffmayer
Dr. Eric Hoffmayer is an Assistant Research Scientist at the University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, Center for Fisheries Research and Development in Ocean Springs, MS. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi in 2003, where he studied stress physiology and energetics of coastal sharks. He then accepted a post-doctoral position in the Department of Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory studying the vertical and horizontal distributions of fish larvae at the Gulf of Mexico’s largest oceanic current, The Loop Current.

Dr. Hoffmayer’s research interests are relatively broad and encompass such areas as essential fish habitat, movement and habitat use patterns, life history, and ecological physiology of fishes. Current funded research projects include the movement patterns and essential fish habitat of dusky and silky sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, the seasonal abundance and distribution of coastal shark species in the north central Gulf of Mexico, the identification and characterization of spotted sea trout spawning habitat in Mississippi coastal waters using passive acoustics, and the seasonal movements and occurrence of whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Jennifer McKinney
Jennifer McKinney came to Deep Blue Resort as a guest in 2005, and was so motivated by her experience that she dedicated herself to studying whale sharks, hoping to both elucidate some of the mysteries surrounding these animals and play a pivotal role in the conservation of the species. According to Dr. Eric Hoffmayer, she “harassed” him for 2 years to become a graduate student under his supervision. Due to her persistence, she is currently a graduate student in the Department of Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. Jennifer received her Bachelor’s Degree from Whittier College, in California, where she designed her own major, entitled “Earth, Ocean and Environmental Studies”.

Her post-baccalaureate work experience includes designing and operating a Mangrove Eco-tour in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and working as a National Marine Fisheries Service Fisheries Observer in Alaska. Her graduate research focuses on the spatial analysis of whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Utilizing remote sensing imagery & spatial analysis software she is attempting to characterize environmental parameters surrounding whale shark presence in the region. She also works very hard to inform the public about the GCRL whale shark sighting survey, with the results doubling in her first year at GCRL (there were 55 reported sightings from 2002-2007 and 70 sightings in 2008), indicating a more prevalent knowledge about the study within the offshore community.

Jennifer V. Schmidt, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
Director of Genetic Studies, Shark Research Institute

I consider myself a geneticist and molecular/developmental biologist, but I have broad scientific interests that span many areas of biology. I'm a Chicago native, and received my PhD from Northwestern University, then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University. In 2000 I joined the faculty of the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where I am currently an Associate Professor. My graduate thesis focused on the genetic response to environmental chemicals, and my postdoctoral work studied the genetics of mammalian development.

My laboratory currently devotes much of its time to studying the genetic control of embryonic development, and designing mouse models for human congenital diseases. I also have a long-standing interest in conservation genetics, particularly of birds and marine animals, and in reproductive behavior. Since 2001 I have collaborated with the Shark Research Institute in Princeton, NJ to use genetic tools to analyze the population structure, migratory behavior and reproduction of the whale shark, Rhincodon typus.

Rafael De La Parra
Rafael De La Parra works for CONANP and has been instrumental in Whale Shark research in Mexico, he has spent the last few years tagging and working with Whale Sharks at what is believed to be the largest aggregation of Whale Sharks in the world, Holbox, Mexico.

Some of Rafael’s findings with the partners he works with have been ‘ground breaking’ and have changed the way researchers look at Whale Sharks.

Rafael now works for CONANP ( Comision Nacional De Areas Naturales Protegidas) he has a degree in Hydro Biology and has been involved with tourism, the handling of tourism with Whale Sharks, Coral Reef management, Costal Ecosystems, and much more, he has also had many articles and papers published on Whale Sharks.

The team at CONAP were also instrumental in tracking a Whale Shark from Mexico to the Ascension Islands in the southern hemisphere, the first time this has been done, apart from this he has a huge amount of experience with using many different types of tracking devices on Whale Sharks, Visual ID tags, Acoustic Tags and Satellite Tags

Isabelle Foisy
Isabelle has worked with Utila Whale Shark Research for the last few years, her work and help in this field have been invaluable, she has not only been working with us but the main liaison for Utila to and for the Marine Meganet project run by Rachel Graham.

Not only has she spent many hours collating information but also tagging whale sharks and taking DNA samples here and in Mexico, also working with most of the dive shops in Utila giving talks in the evenings.

At the present time Isabelle is taking a break at home in Montreal

Matt Potenski
Matthew Potenski graduated from Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, in 2002 with a double major in Biological Sciences and Marine Sciences. He has since pursued his primary interest in the biology and ecology of marine elasmobranches. Matthew is currently completing his masters degree at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). He is a researcher for the Guy Harvey Research Institute and co-principal investigator for the Cayman Islands Stingray Ecology & Conservation Project.

He has spent the last 2 ½ years working with southern stingray (Dasyatis americana) populations in Grand Cayman, BWI. The goal of the project is to compare the biology and ecology of separate populations of stingrays; one that is supplementally-fed by tourists and the natural population that is non-provisioned. This study uses mark-recapture techniques and will be the first study of its kind, in which the effects of an interactive marine experience on animal biology will be quantified. In addition to his studies at NSU, Matthew also participates in studies on several species of sharks. He has been involved with Dr. Samuel Gruber’s work on lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris) in both the Bahamas at the Bimini Biological Field Station-Sharklab and the Marquesas Keys, FL for the past 6 years.

Matt is also Director of Field Operations for the Shark Research Institute and is currently completing his masters degree at Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center (Ft. Lauderdale, FL). He has worked with southern stingray, Dasyatis Americana, populations in Grand Cayman, BW, and studied lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris, in both the Bahamas at the Bimini Biological Field Station-Sharklab and the Marquesas Keys, FL.

As an SRI field researcher, Matt has studied whale sharks in the Bay Islands (Honduras), Galapagos Islands (Ecuador), Cocos Island (Costa Rica), and Mafia Island (Tanzania) - a joint project with the World Wildlife Fund. He also has led SRI field expeditions and conducted both visual ID and satellite transmitter tagging of whale sharks. An avid photographer, Matt recently formed MDP Productions, Inc. as he begins his career as a professional photographer. His work can be seen in several publications, most recently in SRI patron Sylvia Earle’s new book Defying Ocean’s End.

Samples of Matt’s great photography can be seen on his site


Jason Holmberg

Brendal Davis
"Brendal’s passion for the ocean has taken her from the rolling green hills of Meadville, Pennsylvania to the shores of South Florida. In between she travelled the world, from Australia to South Africa, Central America to Europe. After graduating Edinboro University in Pennsylvania with a BA in Spanish and Criminal Justice, Brendal decided to pursue her dream of a career combining diving with marine conservation.  Now she is pursuing her Master's Degree in Marine Resource Management with Oregon State University. After volunteering in shark research at the world-renowned Bimini Biological Field Station, she found her way to the Bay Islands of Honduras where she led divers looking to catch a glimpse of the Whale Shark.

Her insatiable dedication to sharks, and contagious enthusiasm for every creature in the sea, has made her a strong proponent of furthering conservation and education with Shark Savers. Brendal enjoys wreck diving and is always on the lookout for sharks, and particularly enjoys explaining sharks’ unique traits to new divers. Her dedication to teaching scuba divers to be "ambassadors of the ocean" and to take an active role in conservation in their own local area is what she loves most. "If we all work together then we can in fact achieve this goal of a sustainable ocean for years to come".

Suzy Quasnichka
Suzy Quasnichka is both a researcher and a film maker and has been involved in both worlds for many years, Suzy was Director for the Shark Research Institute in the U.K. and has worked all over the world with not only whale sharks but sharks in general and has spent time at Deep Blue Resort in Utila assisting with our Whale Shark work.

The last film Suzy has been working on is an amazing story about Micheal Rutzen called Sharkman, which aired on the Animal Planet in the UK and in the USA.

A 2007 documentary called Sharkman marks a cosmic leap in our understanding of this much maligned apex predator. The film by Damon and Craig Foster debunks misconceptions still plaguing people’s perceptions – that sharks are stupid killing machines that want to eat every living thing they come across.

In the film, we see Gansbaai free diver Mike Rutzen, known as South Africa’s ‘shark whisperer’, hitch a 70-metre ride on a 1½ ton female white shark by clutching her dorsal fin. We see Rutzen gently wrestle a tiger shark into catatonia, its oven-wide head and tooth-riddled jaw inches from his face. We see Black Tip reef sharks cuddle in his lap after he learns the art of tonic immobility, pioneered by retired US scientist Dr Samuel Gruber by accident during research on shark eyesight. Dr Gruber found that he could induce catatonia in certain sharks by turning them upside down and tickling their sensory area.

Film Companies

Dan Cain of Funky Fat Fish Productions.

One of the people that worked on a film about Utila and the Whale Sharks was Dain Cain this film took 3 years to make and was something that Dan was passionate about, a lot of the videos on this site were made by Dan Cain, a clip from the movie can be seen here.

If people are interested in getting a full copy we do have them here at the resort.

Working with Dan was a pleasure due to his professionalism and passion for the underwater world and of course the whale sharks.

Keith Neubert, owner of Breakwater Entertainments

Ex New York Jets football star and now owner of Breakwater Entertainments Keith Neubert was filming a series called American Explorer and decided to include Deep Blue Resort to see the Whale Sharks here in Utila. Have a look at the website, or get more info about about Keith and the series here.

Gary Knapp of Dive Travel DVD’s

When Gary made this film about the Bay Islands we were lucky enough to be the only resort on Utila he picked. Gary makes great travel videos and has a huge selection from all over the world at his website.

Here is a description about the Bay Islands video.

Join us on this Dive Travel adventure series as we explore the western Caribbean Bay islands 40 miles off the northeast coast of Honduras. The three main inhabited islands include Roatan, Utila, and Guanaja, all part of the second largest coral reef in the world and one of Honduras hottest attractions. Beneath the clear turquoise waters is a trove of unbelievable riches: vibrant coral, massive sponges, multicolored fish and large pelagic species, like manta rays, sea turtles, and whale sharks. Surrounded by translucent waters, painted in bold strokes of emerald greens and deep azure blue, these islands are a divers paradise, while surrounded by jungle, luxurious foliage and exotic flowers.

Rotan’s history comes alive with tales of pirates. As many as 5,000 pirates and buccaneers used the islands as a base for attacking Spanish galleons laden with precious metals, woods, and other new world bounty. Our first stop is on Roatan. Then it's on to Utila, where we stay at the Deep Blue Resort and dive the reefs and search for Whale sharks. Utila is a back packer’s paradise, more rustic and remote.

Steffan Schulz of Strange Media
Strange Media website

Steffan is an independent filmmaker living in Northern California. He spent the last five years of his life traveling the world dedicated to a tv series that attempted to show marine environments, their inhabitants and the importance of that ecosytem to our planet. Steffan fell in love with the ocean, being underwater with animals in their environment. He says "Swimming with whales, dolphins, orcas and dozens of species of sharks was a humbling experience for me."

Steffan came to Deep Blue Resort and his film including footage of the Whale Sharks should be available in 2010

David Ulloa of Under Sea Expeditionary Video ,

President and owner of Valeo Films Inc., an independent film and video production company.   As a technical diver and underwater expedition cameraman, Mr. Ulloa’s passion for his work and his continued outstanding performance as an Underwater Camera Operator, AD, UPM, Line Producer, Writer, Director and Producer have earned him the respect of his colleagues as well as the industry at large.    

In 2006, Mr. Ulloa launched Undersea Expeditionary Video Services, the underwater division of Valeo Films. UEV was quickly recognized as an innovative leader among underwater video production companies.    Prior to founding Valeo Films, Mr. Ulloa headed the video operations of San Antonio-based Southwest VideoGrafX, a desktop video graphics firm known for breaking new ground in business communication with its corporate video memos.

After college, Mr. Ulloa worked as a highly-rated US Navy Submarine Nuclear Power Plant Machinist.   Assigned to the engineering department aboard the ballistic missile submarine USSBN George Washington Carver, he was part of the team responsible for operation and maintenance of the submarine’s nuclear power plant propulsion systems.

Some of his underwater work is listed here

1. Return To Monitor  - U/W and Surface Expedition Camera, Producer, Writer, Narrator - 2008 Expedition Feature Documentary - UEV 

2. Quest For Sunken Warships - U/W and Surface Camera, U/W Lighting, Talent (Dive Team), - 2007 Special series for the Military Channel 

3. Just A Bit About: Diving Florida's Caves  - Producer, Writer, U/W and Surface Camera - 2006 Episode 1 of DVD Series - UEV

4. WWII Underwater  - U/W Camera, Support Diver - 2006 Documentary for Deep Explorers, Inc.

5. Sub Aquatic Survivor  - Producer, Director U/W and Surface Camera - 2006 Promotional Video - UEV

Jessika Cirkus

Jessika Cirkus graduated from the Steinhardt School of Education of New York University in 2002 with a degree in Studio Arts. She worked as director of the art gallery at the Bronfman Center in New York City. She also spent summers participating in the Walt Disney World College Program. This internship provided her with a great appreciation of customer satisfaction in the service industry, through her work experience and business seminars at Disney University. Jessika worked at Towson University in outreach, event planning, and program creation including juried art shows. In Washington, DC she took over as Director of the Jewish Literary Festival and as Director of the Anne Loeb Bronfman Art Gallery, managing and curating art exhibitions and event planning.

In 2005 Jessika went to Guatemala's Pacific coast, to live in a small rural village called El Rosario. There she worked with other volunteers from the village's turtle hatchery, and started a community art project. With local children and the support of village elders, she created signs and murals that concentrated on environmental and conservation messages for the hatchery and the community.

Jessika earned her PADI Dive Master and later her Open Water Scuba Instructor certifications and worked as a dive master and instructor in Utila. In 2007, Jessika founded Sea Cirkus Creations. Some of the companies that have contracted her include Utila Dive Centre, GoPro Utila, Utila Municipal Government, Laguna Beach Resort, Alton’s Dive Center and Undersea Expeditionary Video Services. Jessika’s work includes promotional videos, films with students on dive courses and group dive trips. Jessika has worked in the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and the Pacific.

Sea Cirkus Creations operates worldwide and is based in London.

Julie Anderson



The world’s most feared and misunderstood animal is also the most hunted. The frightening reality few of us know is that sharks, the creatures we fear most, are battling for survival. Over 100,000,000 sharks will be killed this year – that’s 11,432 sharks killed every hour.   And, there is no telling what will happen when we remove these critical apex predators from the world’s largest and most important ecosystem - our oceans. Like them or despise them, we need sharks on this planet. 

The sharks are in desperate need of guardian angels, and we just might be their last hope. The Shark Angels represent three different conservation organizations, Save Our Seas, Sea Shepherd, and Shark Savers, that are working together, in an unprecedented way, to prove that regardless of approach, we can all work with one another – and that there are many ways to make a difference for sharks. The Angels are leading a grassroots campaign - combining their respective organizations' strengths in awareness, education, science, grassroots activism, and enforcement - to combat the myths about sharks, to expose the sad truth that many sharks are being chased towards extinction and to stop the global slaughter before it is too late. Simply put, we aim to save sharks... and we need your help.

Watch the video

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