Snorkelling with whale sharks
It’s a sunny, yet windy day. We hop on board a motorboat in the harbour of Las Paz, and begin our 20 minute journey to a snorkelling destination near California, on the Mexican side. The final go ahead for the trip was only given 15 minutes ago, and despite the sales rep’s attempts to assure us of the suitability of the weather, we’re feeling a bit sceptical about whether we’ll be able to see much at all with the sea being so choppy.
Our boat rocks violently in the waves, demanding our young captains best efforts in choosing our course wisely, in order to keep the boat from capsizing. We watch a pelican ride the crest of a wave, and just as it flies off, our captain picks up something interesting on his sonar. He turns the engine off snd then we see it; a huge fin moving in the waves right beside the boat. Every now and then, we catch a glimpse of the spotty back of this, undoubtedly big fish, but we haven’t quite understood yet, just how enormous this creature really is.
Ana, our guide, informs us that we’ve ended up right in the midst of a school of endangered whale sharks. These marine giants can grow up to twelve metres long and weigh up to twenty tonnes! Ana does, however, assure us that despite their enormous size, whale sharks feed solely on plankton, and aren’t interested in eating fish, or meat, unlike most other sharks. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, but thankfully they’re not aggressive and won’t pose a threat to us as long a we don’t attempt to touch them or get too close. We’re told what to do if we end up finding ourselves surrounded by a group of them, or if one approaches us from below. The biggest danger around these gentle giants is, perhaps, getting accidentally hit by the powerful tail, as they turn in the water.
With all this information imbedded in my mind, I tighten my flippers, rinse out my mask and climb on the edge of the boat. The adrenaline gets my circulation going as I follow Pekka and jump into the waves, after making him promise not to let me drift off too far on my own. We’re paying close attention to our guide’s hand gestures, and get an opportunity to swim right next to a whale shark. I lower my mask beneath the surface and get quite a fright when I see a huge shark right in front of me, facing towards the surface, it’s tail pointing down. We stare at each other for a while, and I see the shark opening up its gills as it filters plankton out of the water. Lots of little fish have gathered around the giants gills.
All of the sudden I realise the trouble I’m in! The waves are strong and keep pushing me closer and closer to the shark. I’m trying my best to avoid collision, but my measly attempts are proving rather ineffective against the waves. Thankfully Pekka has been staying close by, and together we manage to slow me down enough to stop me from crashing into the shark.
All in all, we see five sharks. Some of them are only pups, but the largest one is easily 8 metres long. We spend a whole hour snorkeling amongst these beautiful creatures, with our boat following close by, ensuring our safety as we swim after them.
Afterwards, we sit on the boat’s deck in our wetsuits, still soaking wet, grinning away at the amazing experience we’ve just had! Pekka commends my courage and admits that he was struggling to hold on to his, when a shark swam towards him with its mouth wide open. I can’t blame him, since a whale shark could easily swallow a fully grown man in one piece!