I screamed so loudly through my snorkel they could hear me from the boat. I began frantically swimming through the haze of bubbles from the other swimmers, until a huge creature almost the exact same shade of blue as the water came into view. It looked as surprised to see me as I was to see it, and it kept swimming as quickly as my heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it- I had finally done one of the top items on my bucket list- I had seen my first whale shark.
The Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is one of the best places in the world to see the largest fish in the sea (for a full list of places to see them go here), and has been on my radar for as long as I can remember for that exact reason. I have been a scuba diver since I was 16, and my favourite part has always been close encounters with wildlife. The whale shark, with its huge gaping mouth, beautiful markings and peaceful demeanour has been one of the ocean’s inhabitants I have most wanted to see.
I arrived in Cancun right at the end of the whale shark season (mid-September) but nothing was going to stop me from trying to see those gentle giants of my dreams. I made friends with some people at my hostel and immediately persuaded them to join me, partly through the almighty allure of the whale shark and partly through my demanding infectious excitement. We headed off to the port early the next day with absolutely nothing booked and hoping for the best. If you’re wondering if this was a good idea or not, it was not. Our tour was…let’s just say it could have been better.
But we were off! After about an hour and a half of riding through azure waters with me curled up in a tiny ball napping (my sea-sickness meds make me the actual sleepy dwarf), we arrived at the spot where whale sharks had been seen and in the company of about 8 trillion other boats. The system is generally to wait until they find a shark relatively close to the boat, then people jump in two at a time with the guide and spend a few minutes frantically trying to keep up with the whale shark to get a good view. All this while wearing a life-jacket, even though you are snorkelling (according to govt. regulation. Who are these people who can’t swim and decide to go swimming???), so you better hope the whale shark is right at the surface as diving under is about as easy as a very difficult thing.
But does thou care of any of these trivial plights whilst one is swimming WITH A WHALE SHARK?? Hell no, one doest not. Because you are SWIMMING WITH A WHALE SHARK. Those beautiful creatures glide along apparently unaware of how awesome they are, and I do not say that lightly. Not that many things truly inspire awe, other than a great big cheese plate with bottle of wine or one of those Wonders of the World or some such. These guys though, these gigantic, stunning animals made me want to simultaneously stop everything so that I could watch them forevermore, and also keep swimming (so I could keep watching them, forevermore).
We had a second turn at jumping in the water, but due to my insane intense desire to get close to the whale shark I took off my life jacket and Mr. Whale Shark Guide got mad at me and made us get out (it’s ok the whale shark had long swam off anyway). I wasn’t a huge fan of the swimming regulations as other people were allowed to swim in wetsuits, and it simply made no sense. I understand and applaud regulations that prohibit dangers to the animals such as not allowing anyone to wear sunscreen in the water, but this was just silly. If you are going on a similar trip, I recommend doing one that provides wetsuits. Also don’t go swimming if you can’t swim. Learn to swim, it’s quite useful against things like drowning.
Despite the crappy life jacket situation, I can only say that nothing else mattered BECAUSE WHALE SHARKS. This will not be my last time. As soon as I was out of the water I wanted to get back in and get in some whale shark cuddles (strictly prohibited, but a girl can dream). It’s a bit like when you haven’t had sexy times in ages and then you finally get sexy times but all its does is make you want many more sexy times. Not to confuse whale sharks with sexy times, but finally getting to see them just made me want to visit every place in the world they frequent so I can see them again and again (and again and again).
Have you ever seen a whale shark? What was your experience like?