Cancun’s gentle sea giants.
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.