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Swimming With The Largest Shark In The World

Swimming With Whale Sharks In Isla Mujeres

“When I say go, you need to GO. Not half a second before and not half a second after, right when I say it. Okay?”

“Okay,” we nodded back in agreement. Scooching our way over the edge of the dinghy, we let our flippers hang off the side. Pulling down my goggles, I looked ahead, searching for movement from below. We had been cutting through waves for what must have been an hour before arriving at this hotspot.

Every year around this time, whale sharks congregate near Isla Mujeres. Since they are normally solo travelers (like myself), this phenomenon is very rare, making the excursion to see this endangered species in this environment a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. A few waves in front of the boat began to break in the opposite direction as “¡Vamos!” echoed through the air.

I hustled off the ledge and splashed into the salty waves of the Caribbean Sea. Bobbing to the surface, I quickly tipped my snorkel, emptying the water from its tube and shoved the mouthpiece back in. Kicking my rubber flippers as swiftly as I could, I peered underneath the surface of the sparkling sapphire water.

Spotting the Whale Shark

A gaping mouth five feet wide swallowing a swarm of minnows was headed straight toward me from just 10 feet below. 3,000 teeth twinkled in the sun beams before closing down on its prey and continuing upward. Time seemed to pause as the white noise of the sea consumed me. I stopped and stared as a sardine squiggled its way into the whale shark’s mouth, only to calmly spin and swim right back out. I wonder if it knew the stakes of this maneuver. 

Now, close enough that I could spread my wings and ride the creature’s back, I used my arms to thrust my body to the left, giving the gentle giant some space. She must have been six times the length of me and I could now see why this was named not only the largest living species of fish, but the world’s largest shark.

A Fellow Hitchhiker

Swimming Alongside The Whale Shark

Together, we continued gliding out to sea, our flippers in synchrony as her body moved side to side through the currents. The sun flitted off the waves above us, flashing on her white speckles. It was as if I was in an airplane looking down on the streetlights lining a city. I followed the roads along her back to her gills. Five even-sized slits on each side of her neck flapped back and forth as she expelled the extra water that passed through her mouth while guzzling the sardines. A few more hitchhikers joined the school of fish swimming underneath her, gliding through the currents with ease behind the giant’s dorsal fins.

Now, reaching the surface, she crashed through the waves, opening her mouth wide and trapping the remaining fish inside. There was no looking back now. Those who were coasting right beside her not moments ago had now become a fresher-than-fresh breakfast in the Caribbean Sea. Though we view whale sharks as gentle creatures, I’m sure the sardines would say otherwise. Dipping back below the surface, she continued on cruising, going deeper and faster and further away. I watched her monstrous figure dissolve in the array of blues around her until she, too, was consumed by the sea.

Swimming With Whale Sharks
Swimming Alongside The Whale Shark

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