Sunday, July 24, 2011

Swimming with Whale Sharks Cancun

"Go go go!" the captain yells and we throw our bodies off the side of the boat, landing in the sea and coming face to face with the gaping maw of an 8 meter long shark. "MMMMM" I yell through my snorkel (everything sounds like "mmmm" in a snorkel, the translation here is something along the lines of "Holy Cow!"). Though the enormous mouth coming at me is about 1 meter wide, I do know that this whale shark is really only interested in eating plankton. I manoeuvre myself out of her direct path and try to remember to breathe, it is an intimidating mouth regardless of whether I am considered lunch or not. We follow along with her, using our flippers like mad to race to stay alongside her rippled and dotted body. Her mouth opens and closes and the cleaner fish cling to her side and she finally outraces us and we pause for a breath.

This is whale shark season. Every year between May and September, whale sharks gather in large numbers off the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. While whale sharks are found in a few other places in the world, the aggregation in the Mexican Caribbean is by far the largest and most easily accessible for scientists and adventurers. Visitors to Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox can find themselves in the midst of hundreds of these gentle giants, known locally as "dominoes" for their spotted and dotted skin. Scientists regularly visit the region to investigate this still mysterious animal, tagging the animals in an effort to gain a deeper understanding of their migration routes and mating habits.

The whale shark is indeed a member of the shark family, the biggest fish in the sea. The largest recorded whale shark was more than 12 meters long and the heaviest weighed 36 tonnes!. They live in warm-temperate and tropical waters and feed on plankton, algae and fish eggs through filters in their large mouths. Whale sharks are "ovoviviparous" animals, meaning they reproduce through eggs, then give birth to live young, perhaps up to 300 offspring at a time. Whale sharks reach sexual maturity around 30 years of age and it's estimated that they have a lifespan of between 70 and 100 years.

I am an incredibly fortunate woman to live where I do. This was my third time swimming with the whale sharks and it doesn't get old. Today's adventure was once again "unbelievable, out of this world, unreal, super chingon!" The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds, the sun shone down, the guides from Ecocolors were superb as they always are and our boat mates were a lot of fun. We found a group of about 100 sharks today and we each got five "jumps" and pretty much unlimited time sharing the underwater home of these incredible creatures. I really don't think it's possible to express the power of the experience through mere words or photos or even video, it's something you'll just have to try for yourself. Swimming with whale sharks in the Mexican Caribbean is just one of a million reasons why you should visit Mexico, a unique, natural experience that you will remember for a lifetime. This is definitely "bucket list" material.

Click here for more "Whale Shark Photos" from today's excursion.

Marca País – Imagen de México, is a joint public and private sector initiative designed to help promote Mexico as a global business partner and an unrivaled tourist destination. This program is designed to shine a light on the Mexico that its people experience every day.

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating and managing content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared here are completely my own.

Disclosure: My whale shark adventure was provided courtesy Ecocolors Tours, though all opinions expressed are my own.


Steve Cotton said...

I still want to do this -- if I ever get back to your part of Mexico. Maybe this time we can meet up.

AlastairMck said...

I too have always wanted to do this.

Very envious.

Nancy said...

Fantastic, Kelly! I didn't know I wanted to do this until I watched your video... so amazing! Thanks

KfromMichigan said...

Sounds like you had a great time! (again)

Dr George Leddick said...

How hard did you have to work to keep up with a relaxed whale shark? How old will Max have to get before his first time(assuming he behaves)?

CancunCanuck said...

Steve- It is a "bucket list" experience for sure, I would recommend planning a trip around it. And meeting up with me of course. :D

onliner- Don't be envious, come and do it!

Nancy- You'll have to come down (with Steve maybe?), this is truly a magical experience.

KfromMichigan- It was a fantastic day (yes, again, I do live a bit of a dreamy life sometimes!)

Dr. George- They are moving a lot faster than they seem to be. Average speed is about 5 km/h, so yes, I was hustling to keep up. I thought about bringing Max this year (I think the restriction is 5 years old or parental discretion). He would be ok in the water (with a guide pulling him along), but the boat ride is long and hard (every year I have been there have been people being sick over the side, even experienced divers). He is mad that he couldn't go this year, so probably next year I'll give him a chance. :)

Anonymous said...

Me and one of the girls in work were talking about shark swimming only a few days ago. :)

We both said we'd love to try it. I said I'd want to swim with the smaller sharks like the tiger sharks. She said she'd love to do one of those cage dives with Great White Sharks.

Sorry but if Jaws taught us anything it was that cages DO NOT stop a Great White Shark. If I swam with those bad boys, I would *not* want to be in a cage. I want to be out and about in the sea to swim away from those mothers! Hahahahaha.



CancunCanuck said...

Ooooh, great whites and tigers? Mmm, I'll pass, haha! I've snorkeled with nurse sharks (even held and pet them in Belize's "Shark Ray Alley") and I would love to dive with the bull sharks in Playa, but tigers and great whites are a whole other matter! On the other hand, I have been telling people lately that "I would rather die in the mouth of a shark than choking to death on Cheetos in my armchair". :D

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