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 the Whale Shark

Posted from Isla Mujeres, Mexico at 10:08 pm, June 9th, 2011

Here’s how this went down: 6:00 AM the alarm goes off, and Ryan is out on a run. It’s hot and humid, the legs feel like lead ballast, and the army guy at the waterfront gives me a dirty look; this won’t be a day that is remembered for exercise. 7:15 AM Audrey and I arrive at the docks, have a quick breakfast, and then we’re off on a boat with six other passengers and two Mexican crew. At 9:30 AM we’re about twenty miles from Isla Mujeres watching sea turtles do it; this wasn’t a planned part of the itinerary, but sometimes the universe puts two horny sea turtles in the water in front of you and you just say thanks and go along with it. For the next two hours we’re racing around looking for giant fish, and having no success. And after that, the real fun begins.

Two other boats had found a smallish whale shark (thirty feet!) and our boat joined the rotation, putting two people in the water with it as soon as the other boats had a turn, with each group getting about two-three minutes with the shark. Audrey and I were the third group on our boat to go in, and we hit the water, got temporarily disoriented in the open ocean, then looked down to see a submarine of a fish swimming under us. The obvious but unmistakeable first impression is that whale sharks are big. We swam along on the surface about six feet above the shark, apparently alarming it no more than any of the dozens of other fish that were following it, and while my watch showed that we were in the water for two minutes the first time, it seemed a lot longer. Over the course of almost two hours we got three turns with the shark, and while more time would have obviously been great, those six total minutes will undoubtedly be some of the most memorable 360 seconds of our lives.

Life has treated me very well, and while I don’t know what it is that I’ve done to deserve it, I’m extraordinarily grateful that things have worked out as they did. More adventures await over the coming days.

Second trip with the whale shark. That’s Audrey at the very end, and the whale shark is the giant fish that is never fully in frame. My life is good.