The whale shark is said to be the world’s largest fish, measuring up to 45 feet long with the heaviest one ever recorded weighing a whooping 47, 000 pounds! They are found in parts of Mexico, the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, the Maldives, Ecuador, Belize, Thailand and Mozambique so there is lots of opportunity to see them depending on where and at what time of year you travel.
The thought of swimming beside one of these amazing creatures can be a little intimidating but with a knowledgeable tour operator you will be in good hands.
While in La Paz in Mexico I joined a day tour to snorkel with them. We travelled by small boat for about 20 minutes out to the bay where they are usually found.
It didn’t take long before we saw a couple of fins travelling through the water and were told to get ready to jump in. We were divided into groups of 4 for our time in the water and mine was the first group to go.
Before the first swim our guide gave specific instructions to follow her, stay back at least 2 metres and at least 3 metres from the tail, not to touch the them and to be sure not to swim in front of them because their eyes are on the side of their head and you would run the risk of being bumped into if you happened to get in front of the whale shark.
Seeing whale sharks is something I have always wanted to do so with the excitement of the moment and effort to stay out of its way all I was able to see were the fins of my fellow snorkellers. We were quickly told to get back in the boat as the whale shark swam away.
These “gentle giants’ as they are known are said to be slow swimmers however these ones seemed pretty fast to me. There were some strong swimmers in our group so a few people were able to swim along side them for a few minutes.
My second time in the water was much better. I’m not a fast swimmer so I was concentrating on keeping up with the group when our guide grabbed my hand, pulled me ahead and pointed to my right. I turned to see a huge whale shark right beside us, his mouth, which was almost the entire width of its head, slowly opening and closing to capture the surrounding food filtering in. The sunlight streaming through the water shone a spotlight on the gentle nature of the environment and this creature.
According to Darry, our guide, our spotted friend was an average size for a whale shark, which to me seemed to be the equivalent of a school bus. They have a life expectancy of between 70-100 years and are easily recognizable as they are covered in polka dots. We managed to join this while during lunch which made for perfect viewing because they slow down to eat. They have approximately 3,000 tiny teeth that help them to chomp down small shrimp, fish and plankton.
The short time I spent swimming beside the whale shark will certainly be remembered as a highlight of the trip. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a truly unique experience in the water.
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