Today was wonderful — and that’s a word that shouldn’t be used casually as we often do. Truly filled with wonder. I’ve had the chance to snorkel with whale sharks before, but never in the aggregation that we saw today off Isla Mujeres, which holds a yearly festival in their honor. The day began with an early morning pickup (whale sharks feed in the morning), and an hour boat ride out to the site. One of the guides on the boat told of a time 30 years ago when no one knew the sharks were here — “Oh, we knew,” she said. “But tourists? Nah.” Snorkeling with these gentle giants has become big business in the last few years though and today at their feeding grounds I counted at least 40 other boats. Despite the numbers of people, not once did I feel crowded — boats respect each other’s space, and frankly, there were so many sharks that I was oftentimes the only one watching or following any particular one. The spotted sharks, though they can reach lengths of over 40 feet, feed primarily on plankton. The ones we saw today were gorging on fish eggs suspended in the water, and averaged around 10 meters, or 33 feet. It’s something to be swimming next to an animal that is so large you can’t capture its entire body in your frame.
When we dropped anchor, I couldn’t even count the number of fins in the water —when questioned, another guide on the boat said he thought there were perhaps 200 out there. I could not wait to jump in, and was surrounded almost as soon as I did. Scuba isn’t permitted with whale sharks — snorkel only — but it hardly made a difference, leaving me free to experiment with my GoPro and just enjoy the moment. Each guide took two snorkelers and cries of “over there!” and “to your left!” and “look behind you!” echoed across the water. People were positively giddy. If I can figure out how to upload a movie to the website, you may hear me laughing underwater — it was that much fun. I lost track of time, but we got in and out with the sharks, following them as they moved to the east, at least three times. Not until everyone was satisfied did we pack up and head for shore, to snorkel a bit near Isla. With all the great diving ahead of me this week, it’s still not a stretch to say it’s going to be tough to beat simple snorkeling with these amazing creatures.
Look for Sport Diver managing editor Rebecca Strauss's daily blogs while she is on assignment in Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico.