Location: La Paz, Mexico
Whale sharks are not exactly whales, and not exactly sharks, which can cause some confusion when I tell someone I’m going to go swim with a whale shark. A whale shark is a slow moving filter feeder fish, and actually the largest nonmammalian vertebrate in the world. The resemble a shark in their fins and gills and resemble a whale in their size and face. They range in size from 14ft to 40ft and stay in warm waters. They feed on plankton and do not pose any threats to humans.\
My first “encounter” with a whale shark was a few years ago when my scuba instructor had a mermaid photography workshop with them in Mexico.
The photos were so gorgeous and the sharks were so large that I knew I needed to be there and swim with them as well. They typically come to the Cabos area during the winter and have large groups of them between November to March. You can check out their work at Way Beyond Productions.
I set myself up with Cabo-Adventures for the tour and we were off on a 2-hour bus ride to La Paz, where they would be swimming. Once there, our only real rules were: Do not touch the sharks and stay within a 3 feet distance of them while swimming, possibly further with their tail since they tend to swat. The boat ride out to the spot took about 20 minutes and along the way we saw a pod of 5 dolphins with a baby dolphin in tow.
Our guide informed us, if there were dolphins around, the sharks would not be near there since they didn’t get along. So, further out we went. Finally, we came upon 3 whale sharks feeding in one area. They were HUGE! It was pretty cool to see just how large they were in such shallow water. The water was probably about 10 feet deep at most. In the water we went after them.
I must have been the only brave one in our group of 6 because I immediately paddled as fast as I could to keep up with one of them. I got as close as I could and swam with him along the way. I never really noticed anyone else near me either so I had a private encounter. You could hear the shark gulp in water and push it out through its filters.
It made a gulping screech sound and it was impressive to see the gills move along with all the little fish that followed him around. When a group of them would leave, we would get back into the boat and find some more. Apparently our guide was really impressed because he said normally they follow 4 small ones, but we managed to find 12 and one was 35 feet long.
I was swimming along one and it decided to change course on me and all of a sudden I was on top of it trying not to touch it or make it mad. Just as I was able to clear it, another came rushing up with his mouth wide open and straight for me. He ran right into my shoulder and pushed me out of the way and swam fast enough to then slap me in the back with its tail. I was a virtual ping pong in a ocean of whale sharks. I managed to get my scuffle on my camera, but upon getting back to the bus, the tour guide also got my knock out on film too. Particularly getting hit in the butt by a whale shark. How many people can say that has happened to them, and got it on video! HA.
All in all, it was a fantastic day and I highly recommend doing a swim with these gentle giants. Not to mention that the drive back to Cabos was scenic with humpback whales swimming along the shorelines. We lucked out for an animal filled day: Dolphins, Whale Sharks, and Humpback Whales, oh my!
Would I do this again? IN A HEARTBEAT! One of the best things I’ve done yet.
How to do this: Whale sharks are seasonal and most available in Mexico in the winter. Cabo-Adventures have some of the best guides working for them and really tailor to a personable experience with the least amount of snorkelers in the water at one time.