Swimming with Whale Sharks: A Mexican Adventure

The whale shark season in Mexico, Playa del Carmen is from May to September.

The Adventure Begins

Setting off at dawn, I traveled to Puerto Juarez port, near Cancun to start the adventure. In a small boat of around 10 people, you make your way deep into the ocean, speeding along and jumping over the waves until someone spots the first whale shark.

Seeking out out a whale shark, despite their size is not always easy. The boat sits in the calm blue waters, the sun blazing down on you, the sea surrounds you as far as the eye can see, with no sight of land. 

The water is a deep blue, warm and crystal clear. All is calm but then once a whale shark is spotted, its a rush to put on snorkels and flippers, get to the ladder and jump into the deep. Only two people should jump in the water per whale shark, so as not to scare or irritate them.

Swimming in the Deep

They are so big, it can be scary to take the jump into the ocean and join these gentle giants. Trying to swim alongside them is no easy task. Even if you can swim fast, they can swim faster. You can get close but not to the tail, it’s so large being hit by it would be bad news. For a while, you’ll glide alongside the whale shark until it disappears into the blue.

Sunscreen washes off and sits at the top of the water, which is where the whale sharks get their food, so sunscreen is not to be worn. In 30 degree heat, bringing long-sleeved clothing is recommended. 

Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean, growing up to 12 meters long and weighing more than 24 tons, 3 times the size of a great white.

Whale Shark

Whale sharks are not actually whales, but sharks the size of whales. Despite their gaping mouths and formidable size, they are often referred to as “gentle giants”. Whale sharks have tiny teeth in their 4 foot-wide mouth, swimming with it open, to catch tiny eggs and plankton.

These beautiful creatures are endangered, mostly due to fishing. Whale sharks in some Asian countries are considered delicacies. Although illegal in many places, they are still killed for their meat because they can be sold for a large profit. 

Whale Shark
WWF. Whale shark meat on a drying rack. Pamilacan Island, Philippine

Less than 10% of whale sharks born live to adulthood. Those who survive can live for up to 150 years. 

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