Whale sharks!

Sandy thought I was being obsessive as I read the directions given to us by the self appointed “Whale Shark Daddy” and tried to trace out the route on google maps.  He had told us to forget google… because it doesn’t work well in Mexico.  And that may be somewhat true, but the Whale Shark Daddies directions were absolutely horrible!  He’d have us heading north on the main highway and then tell us to turn right so we’re heading west -or- give us vague “turn right after the underpass” with no street names or identifiable landmarks.

So we navigated using his directions, my memories of what google had shown us, and a general principal that we should end up by the sea (as opposed to heading west, deeper into the city) and eventually we found our way to Marina Las Jaibas.

We listened to a quick briefing of what to expect and boarded the boat.  It was about an hour ride out when our captain spotted a gathering of tour boats indicating that the whale sharks have been found.

A couple dozen boats slowly putted around as snorkelers jumped off and splashed around in the ocean.  If we had anything to fear, it wasn’t from the whale sharks, it was the idea of some boat accidentally motoring over you while you swam about.  It did make us a little bit nervous.

We soon saw our first glimpse of these enormous fish when the dorsal fin broke the surface of the water as people swam after the whale shark, trying to keep up.

We were broken up into 5 groups of two.  Sandy and I were group number 2.  The idea is we were to sit on the side of the boat while the captain moved us into position.  He would then give us the go ahead and we’d jump in and swim like mad to get alongside the whale shark.  Then we’d just swim alongside as long as we could.  There was a guide on the boat, Carlos, who would join us in the water and help point us in the direction of the whale shark.

The boat ride out was uneventful, we sat there quietly waiting as we bounced across the waves.  As soon as we arrived though things started moving very quickly – the first couple was already in the water and the captain was yelling at us to get into position.  I quickly put my fins on and swung my legs over the side of boat so I was sitting there on the edge, ready to jump.  The first couples swim was already over and they were climbing up the ladder.  A moment later we were motoring into position alongside a whaleshark, maybe forty feet out and a little ahead of him.

Sandy swimming alongside a whaleshark. We were close enough to reach out and touch them – in fact, one of them gave Sandy a little bump with it’s tail.

“Go! Go! Go!”, the captain yelled and we were in the water.  It was fast and hectic – I was confused about where I was going at first but then we saw it.  A moment later Sandy and I were swimming right alongside.

Although the whalesharks had the ability to swim very fast, most of the time they were going slow enough that we had no problem keeping up.  We would swim along for several minutes until the would finally outdistance us or slowly descended out of sight.

On the first swim, I was so focused and watching Sandy swim alongside one of these giant beasts, that I didn’t even realize a second one was nearby.

Apparently my survival instincts were a little rusty - I managed to get a nice picture before I suddenly realized I should get the hell out of the way.

Apparently my survival instincts were a little rusty – I managed to get a nice picture before I suddenly realized I should get the hell out of the way.

Carlos grabbed my arm and pointed – now when they gave us the briefing, they told us about how the sharks could sense the electrical field we humans put off and how they have no problem avoided us as the swim by so we have nothing to worry about.  I know this.  But you still can’t help but feel a little scared when you turn and one of these creatures is coming straight at you.

I think we got five swims in before we finally decided to call it quits.  The whalesharks had dispersed – probably escaping the annoyance of dozens of boats buzzing around like mosquitoes spoiling a nice day out in the ocean.

On the return, we stopped to do a little snorkeling.  Unfortunately, the current was so strong everyone was getting blown off the reef.  Now if it were up to me, I’d just let it happen and wait for the boat to come pick me up (although I’d be a little happier if I had my safety sausage with me!)  But they decided instead to throw a line into the water for us to hang on to and then slowly motor over the reef.  Not exactly my favourite way to go snorkeling.  Especially when I saw a school of squid that I really want to go over and get a better look at.

After about 30 minutes of this, they reeled us in and it was time for lunch.

We anchored in a shallow sandy area that used to be beach before a hurricane came through a couple of years back.  The water was absolutely perfect and we splashed around as the crew handed out corona’s for us to enjoy.  They also prepared shrimp ceviche for us to enjoy as we lounged about.

We used the lifejackets to make little floating tables and feasted while we swapped stories about our adventure.

Following this link for more pictures.

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