Monday, May 20, 2013 2:38 PM
The Surprises of Whale Shark Season
Here in the Mexican Caribbean, we
might not have seasons like spring, fall and winter, but we do have a unique
season of our very own: whale shark season! From May 15 through September 15
every year, whale sharks make their way down to the northern shores of the
state of Quintana Roo to feed on plankton and presumably to enjoy a little
My first encounter with whale sharks was just last summer.
My husband Jorge, my best friend Nadia and I took a boat out of Solo Buceo
Marina at Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa, joined by a group of Brazilians who
were much better swimmers than we were. The ride out was bumpy and we spent
about 45 minutes circling around in search of the whale sharks, but once the
little boat reached our destination we were blown away. Several other boats
were surrounding a herd of dozens of huge animals, with snorkelers and whale
sharks swimming peacefully side-by-side.
After letting the Brazilians on our boat be the guinea pigs,
our guide Pepe grabbed my hand as I jumped into the choppy waters of the open
Caribbean Sea. The boat captain had timed it so Pepe and I could easily sidle
up alongside an approaching whale shark, and I caught my breath a little as I
saw the shark’s huge gills rippling with the water just beside me. I felt as if
I could reach out and touch the speckled animal, but Pepe had already warned us
that we’re not to touch the wild whale sharks. I glanced behind me and saw the
huge tail swaying side to side, so far away I could just barely see the
outline, and suddenly realized how big the whale shark was. I swam between the
whale shark and Pepe (still holding my hand) for a few minutes before the
creature pulled ahead.
About 15 minutes later, it was my turn to go into the water
again. As I jumped, Pepe lost sight of our target whale shark, so we swam out a
little before he spotted another one coming. “Put your head underwater,” he
told me. As I submerged my snorkel mask, I saw the giant, gaping mouth coming
straight for me. A sudden fear of being accidentally swallowed whole by a
toothless shark swept over me, but the whale shark turned aside just in time
and we once again followed alongside it for a while before heading back to the
boat so my husband could have another turn.
I’ve always been a bit panicky in the water and I’d spent
all week stressing about what it would be like to swim next to a 10-meter
shark, naturally. However, once I was in the water, the whale sharks calmed me
down immediately with their slow swim and laid-back demeanor.
This season, I hope to do the whale shark swim again!
Originally from Virginia, Laura Winfree moved south of the border in
2005 to major in tourism at La Salle University Cancun. Today, she works
as a copy writer for a local travel agency in addition to freelance
blogging, writing and translating. Laura writes about her life as an
expat in Mexico at http://gringationcancun.com and
http://www.facebook.com/gringationcancun. Nightclubs and weekly beach
trips are her favorite part of living in Cancun!
Author: Laura Winfree on Google+