Swim with Whale Sharks

Well it wasn’t on my Life’s Greatest Hits list but with a birthday coming up and a son graduating from college I couldn’t resist the opportunity to swim with whale sharks on a recent press trip to Cancun.

Whale sharks swimming off Cancun.
Our boat from Solo Buceo joined others waiting to spot whale sharks.

Really?  “Swim with whale sharks” was what it said on the itinerary for the day following a “Swim with Dolphins” excursion.  Sounded equally harmless. And PR people are known to be very cautious not to harm media on these trips.   

The description continued, “The whale shark is the largest fish exisiting in the ocean today; they can grow to be up to 60 feet (18 meters) in length.  The whale shark prefers waters of warm surface temperature, in areas where there are upwellings of nutrient rich colder water — these conditions favor blooms of plankton on which the sharks feed.”

Ok. I was game, as were Christy, Lucas, Kim, her daughter Sadie, Gina, Adriana and Cessie. At 6:30am we started chugging the Dramamine; good thing too. A van brought us to Solo Buceo, a local dive shop where Tiburon Ballena, Observo, No Toco! was the message.

A Whale Shark Encounter Mexico Style

After a quick orientation by their team, our guide Nicos grabbed some gear and led us to a speed boat. The hunt, taking anywhere from 1.5 to 4 hours, was on. We were going to find where the whale sharks were hanging out, and join them in the Caribbean.

I don’t think anyone really believed they were actually going to swim with 60-foot-long fish.

We sped past a pod of dolphins frolicking in the white caps… Then whizzed by Isla Mujeres… Everyone had watched the huge green sea turtle lumber by… Most were working on our tans… That was surely enough for one vacation day.

I am sure we all secretly assumed the sharks would never be found.

Suddenly, on the horizon, our driver spotted some other boats. We pulled up… swarms of Jaws-like fins instantly circling our boat. Nicos distributed life jackets, flippers, a mask and snorkel and pointed at me, “You! Swim?” he asked.  “Let’s go.”

Not one to hold up the group, and eager to try the waterproof GoPro camera I was reviewing, in I went. 

And it was heavenly. My GoPro video can only give you a taste of the experience.

Amazing, worthwhile, possibly life-changing — how? I now have tremendous respect for a creature I never even knew co-existed on my planet. These dozens of whale sharks seemed incredbily disinterested in us, but we were enthralled with them. 

Watching them lazily swimming around, trying to stay out of their way, recoiling when we accidentally bumped one coming up behind, admiring the tiny algae eaters who rode on their backs while feeding…  the 10 minutes I spent down below was thrilling. 

You Can Swim with Whale Sharks Too.

Solo Buceo (855-980-6736) is located at the Real Inn Hotel, Cancun Mexico. They have been doing this (and leading diving trips, etc) since the 1990s. The Swim with Whale Shark snorkeling trips run during the June to September migration season of these majestic creatures. The cost is US$159 per person, booked online in advance. Our guide Nico said that kids as young as 10 could do this, since only snorkeling (and confidence) is involved. It’s mostly about body weight so families with bigger and braver younger kids should get in touch.

Don’t wait till you’re my age. Just do it.

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