Swimming With the Whale Sharks

Since we had to leave on the ferry the next day this was our one shot at excursions out of La Paz. There would be no swimming with the sea lions, no snorkeling, and no trip to Isla Espiritu Santo. Seeing the whale sharks was the top priority though so off we went with Archie and his son. They know where the sharks hang out and are licensed by the state to give the tours. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the oceans. The good news is that they are filter feeders eating mainly plankton and do not eat meat.

On the way out of the harbor we saw several dolphins playing and jumping through the water very close to the boat. In short order Archie’s son had us tracking an enormous shadow and he jumped in to orient the boat driver as to the exact direction the fish was swimming. In a moment the driver gave us the signal to jump in. I did so and fumbled with my mask and snorkel some. I looked right and left without seeing a thing and came up to see what was going on. The boat operator shouted to me “Look down!” I looked straight down and had to pull my feet up to avoid bumping the shark. It was enormous, probably four times my length and this was a mid-sized shark. I tried following the giant and kept losing it in the slightly cloudy water. We climbed back aboard and Ann and I were sputtering again about the sheer size of the thing. We spotted a few more with the same results: brief viewings and then climb back aboard the boat. Towards the end of the tour we spotted one and this time I was able to track and follow it for several minutes. The water was much clearer and very shallow so I could see it clearly from head to tail.

Not me, but it gives you the perspective (borrowed from internet)

I swam so close that I could have reached out and touched it if that was allowed.  The shark was swimming very slowly, placidly almost on the bottom. I could see the enormous caudal (tail) fin occasionally stirring up a little swirl of sand on the bottom. Just being in the close presence of this leviathan was an experience hard to describe. I was able to stay with him for a long time, our guide told us, because he probably just finished feeding and now he’s fat and happy and just cruising slowly on the bottom. Very mind blowing.

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