WHALE SHARKS

Can­cun’s gen­tle sea giants.

DRIFT Travel magazine - - Inside This Issue - BY: MARK BLANK

As our boat cut through the small swells, my stom­ach turned. I have never been one to get sea sick even in rough wa­ters; but that day there was an­other rea­son for my un­easy stom­ach.

Our ves­sel be­gan to slow and I felt the hum of the en­gine cease. Once your boat’s en­gine turns off you re­ally be­gan to un­der­stand how pow­er­less you are in the open sea. You sim­ply drift, com­pletely at the mercy of the vast blue ex­panse.

We be­gan to gear-up and my anx­i­ety in­ten­si­fied. Wet suit, fins, snorkel… check. Af­ter awk­wardly find­ing my feet in my over­sized flip­pers, the ob­ject of my rest­less­ness swam right up against the side of our boat. A dark shape nearly 40 feet in length dwarfed our skiff and I be­gan to ques­tion my de­ci­sion to sign up for this ex­cur­sion.

If you are lucky, you may have a few mo­ments in your life that be­gin with ter­ror and then man­i­fest into ab­so­lute won­der. Per­haps it is sky div­ing or climb­ing a lofty moun­tain peak. For me it was free div­ing with the ocean’s largest fish off the coast of Can­cun, Mex­ico.

Every year from June to Septem­ber hun­dreds of whale sharks find their way to the warm, turquoise wa­ters of the Mex­i­can Caribbean to feed on the dense plank­ton pop­u­la­tions. Whale sharks are fil­ter feed­ers which means they eat tiny or­gan­isms like krill, fish eggs and mi­cro­scopic crus­taceans. I con­tin­u­ally re­minded my­self of this fact as I was about to en­ter their habi­tat.

“There’s a big one!” our dive guide shouted, and we plunged in. The shark’s cav­ernous, wheel bar­row-sized mouth was at the sur­face vac­u­um­ing in dozens of gal­lons of wa­ter. I heard some shout­ing from the crew on the boat and turned around to see an­other colos­sal whale shark swim­ming di­rectly to­ward me. Its mas­sive mouth was no more

than four feet from my face. My ini­tial re­ac­tion was fear, but I quickly no­ticed this an­i­mal had no in­ter­est in me. With a flick of its tail the shark changed di­rec­tions and con­tin­ued its feed­ing path.

Af­ter the shock of the sheer size of these an­i­mals sub­sided, I soaked in the spec­tac­u­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. Look­ing into the shark’s enor­mous yet gen­tle eyes, it was hard not to won­der what things these fish have seen.

The speck­led leviathans are sur­pris­ingly quick for their size. Just a few swoops of their pow­er­ful tail­fins and they were out of vis­i­bil­ity.

By the end of the tour we had seen at least 20 sharks and that was a slow day for the world’s largest con­cen­tra­tion of whale sharks.

Dur­ing the hour and a half boat ride back to the main land, my mind thought about the amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Not many peo­ple get to swim with sharks in their life, let alone the largest sharks in the ocean.

My only fear is that ex­pe­ri­ences like this may not be avail­able for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Over­fish­ing and hu­man stress on marine en­vi­ron­ments threat­ens the fu­ture of whale sharks. I am con­vinced that if more peo­ple took op­por­tu­ni­ties like this to wit­ness first-hand the beauty of the ocean, the fight to pro­tect the seas would take a dra­matic turn for the best.

So if you are vis­it­ing Can­cun and up for an ad­ven­ture, a whale shark snorkel trip is an ab­so­lute must. Mem­o­ries of sip­ping cock­tails by the pool will fade, but swim­ming with these crea­tures is some­thing you will re­mem­ber and cher­ish for the rest of your life.

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