Central America, Mexico, Travel

We swam with whale sharks!

September 29, 2014

When I found out that whale sharks congregate in possibly the largest numbers in the world near Cancun, I knew we had to try to see them.

We booked a trip with EcoColors and were like giddy little kids just thinking about it.

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{Photo via: Ecocolors via Discovery Latinoamerica}

Shark or Whale?

First off, people hear shark and freak out.  No, no. These guys are much more whale, than shark.  They don’t eat people or even try. They are often called gentle giants though they are the largest shark in the world.

I packed for how I normally would for a boat trip, but we weren’t really prepared. We took a GoPro with underwater housing, but I also took my SLR for taking pictures from the boat. Big mistake! The boat is never dry.  Once you leave from the marina, you’re at top speed in the open ocean and for us, it was rough and choppy. So, you couldn’t possibly hang on to a nice camera and take a photo.  I don’t mean an occasional spray of water, I mean huge drenching waves constantly careening over the sides.  The boat ride is an adventure, but not for the faint of stomach. We had several people on our boat who were extremely sick.

We rented wetsuits, which were great for sun protection and buoyancy to swim with the sharks.

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{Photo via ABC}

Our first jump

We finally arrive in the general area where the whale sharks might be. We pre-determined which pairs would go first.  We were to jump second.

We are cruising around and then suddenly, the guide spots one.

She yells, “Go, go! Get in the water!”

The first group stares at her blankly and she’s screaming, “Jump in! Now! GO!”

They got in and we followed quickly behind. It was a little challenging for me to get over the side of the boat because my hip is still a little weak for maneuvers like that, I was wearing fins already and that the boat was moving.

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But, we jumped!  I know my heart was racing with excitement, anticipation, adrenaline and a little anxiousness.

I put my face in the water and there he was. Just like that. Unbelievable. So majestic, so huge, so pretty.

He was moving fast and we swam hard to keep up, but just couldn’t.  He was gone. I was little wonderstruck. We got just a little taste, but it was magical.

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There was no time to process what had happened, because then we are swimming out on our own and the water was extremely rough with giant waves.  I know I turned my head once and got smacked with a tower of water and got a mouthful.  I’m choking and sputtering.

With me being out of shape, it was a little hard to tread water for that little bit, while our boat came back for us. While the wetsuits are buoyant, they’re not the same as a life jacket, especially when treading water instead of floating.

After we got back on the boat, I was exhausted and on a bit of a high. I couldn’t believe what I had just done and seen. I couldn’t wait to get back in the water.

Here sharky, sharky…

We lost sight of them.  The boat ended up wandering around for quite a bit and I wondered if that would be it? I felt bad that the rest of the groups on the boat might not see them.

While we were looking, we spotted a manta ray. I think I used to call all rays, manta rays. WRONG. I had never seen a manta before. He was HUGE!! I couldn’t believe my eyes. He appeared to be the same size as the boat, which was a spectacular sight. I couldn’t get a photo unfortunately. 🙁

Finally, we came upon a grouping of boats and spotted several whale sharks. Our next two jumps were wonderful because the sharks were just hanging out and swimming slowly, so we got a good look at them and could swim along side of them for a bit. I love their spots.

On one of my swims, his tail fin seemed to be getting awfully close to me, so I tried to back up out of the way.  It’s hard for me to judge distance underwater though.

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Wild Ride

The ride back was extremely rough and bumpy.  Again, fun for us, but we felt really bad for the two seasick people on our boat. It was so rough that we had to forego the snorkeling around the reefs part of the trip.  We were a little bummed, but understood the conditions weren’t right.

Erick eventually put his snorkel mask on because he kept getting slapped in the face with salt water and couldn’t see as it was burning our eyes.

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Our GoPro video:

Advice:

If you go, I’d recommend going in peak season, so maybe June – August.  There are more sharks to be found and the water is clearer. Our visibility wasn’t so good as you can see in my photos and video. Also, check out my other recommendations on TripAdvisor.

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