Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

The One with WAAAAAY More Whale Sharks

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 4:00 pm, June 12th, 2011

As amazing as Thursday’s whale shark experience was, it turns out it gets way, way better. WAY better.

We debated whether or not we should go on the whale shark trip again because we were afraid the second time wouldn’t be as good, but we finally decided that it would be silly not to go again and try our luck. The trip started out ominously – sixteen people showed up at the docks, but the boat was supposed to take a maximum of nine, our guide was the son of the guide we expected and spoke almost no English, and our captain from Thursday was going fishing so not only did we have a different captain but we got a smaller boat. Despite this beginning, all worked out. Seven of the people at the dock departed on other boats, the water was ridiculously calm so the smaller boat wasn’t an issue, and as we headed out we heard stories of “another area” in which a hundred whale sharks had been seen the previous day – while hopes were raised, we prepared for this number to be an exaggeration with a best case of a few more sharks and more time in the water.

The ride out involved dolphins and a few sea turtles, and then suddenly we were in magic land. As soon as the first shark was spotted six more were found within a hundred yards of it, and an area that was perhaps a mile across ended up having 100-200 whale sharks in it; literally everywhere you looked there was a set of massive fins sticking out of the water as the sharks filtered plankton at the surface. Not only were there more than enough sharks to avoid the need for sharing between boats, we actually had to be cautious of bumping into sharks while swimming as they crossed and re-crossed paths. To describe this experience as “awesome” would not do it justice. The water was ridiculously clear, the sharks were moving slowly enough that it was possible to swim with them, and we got four trips into the water for five-to-ten minutes each time where we swam within arm’s length of the largest fish in the ocean. One of the sharks in particular was huge (perhaps 35 feet long) and kept making 180 degree turns, giving Audrey and me the experience of following next to a beast only to have it turn, gaze at its followers, and then slowly pass by us at close range.

Some of today’s videos give a reasonably good impression of the experience, but a bit of editing and a faster internet connection will be needed before anything is ready for posting, so hopefully these two photos offer some hint of what it feels like to swim with giants.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

Whale shark with attendant fish, each of which was between one and two feet long. One of these smaller fish actually left the shark and swam to within a foot of me for reasons which no one but that fish will ever know.

Whale Shark near Isla Mujeres

This is the giant shark that Audrey and I swam with for about ten minutes, giving us a look before making a 180 degree turn.

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