What is it Like to Snorkel With a Whale Shark?


Eleanor Bryant, Expedition Leader, Safari Voyager

This week the Safari Endeavour came into La Paz on a balmy Friday morning for our whale shark excursion.

As I gathered my group together, we began to talk and joke about the upcoming trip. After stepping aboard our vessel we headed out with sea spray and the whine of turbo engines.

As we slowed, all the guests began to put on their wetsuits. The anticipation was palpable as my guests realized they were about to swim with some very large animals in pretty open water.

Our guide, Edgar explained how we shouldn’t touch the whale sharks or use flash photography. Then suddenly he said, “Whale shark on the left! Group one, let’s go!”

There was as sudden flurry of activity as everyone tried to remember:

A) Am I in group one?

B) Where are my snorkel and fins?

Edgar motioned us to hurry as we neared the large animal that looked like a blotchy grey disk below the water. Then suddenly, Edgar was jumping in and obviously expecting us to follow. Like little ducklings we piled in behind him and he started shouting, “swim with me, quickly now!”

Snorkeling group 1

We kicked over towards the whale shark with our fins and our snorkels, an ungainly protuberance of splashes and controlled flailing on the ocean’s surface. The whale shark’s massive mouth sucked in plankton and his gills flared out as he fed while suspended in the slightly turbulent water. I could hear muttered “wows” through snorkels as we got close to the behemoth himself.

This animal was beautiful. He was sinuous, gentle, and intimidating all at the same time. As he propelled himself around with his tail the size of a small oak tree, we felt the turbulence from it wash over and around us. As he fed, I became mesmerized by his spotted body, disk shaped head, and the many little remoras surrounding him.

Whale shark tail

Edgar grabbed my hand and swam me to a distance closer than I would ever dare (you see whale sharks are not common in my hometown of South Georgia). For a moment, I forgot to count heads and watch the group as I floated over this thirty foot long whale shark four feet beneath me.

Then I was snapped back to reality as the whale shark stopped feeding and disappeared into the depths.

“Group one back to the boat!” shouted Edgar and we headed back and ungracefully pulled ourselves back on board. Then group two went. We continued this way for a couple hours. I have to say, I never thought I would be wowed by a fish, never thought I would swim with forty foot long whale sharks, and never thought I would find such a simple creature mesmerizing, powerful, and fun.

On the way back our group ate sandwiches, drank water and coke, and reminisced. Baja is the same as the whale shark, powerful, gentle, and dynamic and I hope to see him for a long time still.

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