Swimming With Whale Sharks

With a name like whale sharks, you would think swimming with them might not be a good idea.  Even though they are enormous, they are gentle giants.  They are the largest fish in the world reaching lengths of 30-40 feet and 10 tons and that’s how they earned the adjective of “whale”.

But they are a docile fish that opens its large mouth to filter the plankton.  They don’t have the large, razor rows of teeth that other sharks have.  And they kind of look like they have a pattern of dominoes arranged over their dark skin with the white dots and stripes.

Sunrider Tour Boat

We bought tickets with a tour company on the malecón a few days in advance after checking the forecast for sunshine and a hot temperature.  It actually rained the day prior which was the first day we’ve seen rain while in Mexico.  The boat, our driver, and our guide were waiting for us and 4 other passengers on the dock off from the pier mid-morning.

La Paz Bay

We were all supplied with wet suits, masks, snorkels, and flippers for our swimming expedition.  Our driver and guide drove us out in the boat into the large La Paz bay probably about 5 miles along the coast where they were familiar with locating the whale sharks a few hundred feet from shore.  The whale sharks like this location especially this time of year because the Sea of Cortez current delivers a high concentration of plankton to them.  It felt great to be out on the water.

Our guide informed us that whale sharks are endangered so only a limited number of tourists are allowed in the water at a time.  There were a few other panga type boats out on the water with tourists in our vicinity.  And you’re prohibited from touching them and catching a ride by holding onto a dorsal fin.  More than being afraid of them, you are more concerned in wanting to be cautious not to swipe them with your flippers.  Although, they’re endangered, the La Paz bay in the Sea of Cortez is a location where they’re found.

Whale sharks are very quiet and graceful as they glide through the water ~ Photo Sunrider Tours.

Our guide acted as a lookout up in front of our boat and warned us that once he spotted one, we needed to be ready to follow him, jump in, and swim fast to see the whale shark.  You kind of feel like a paratrooper quickly lining up in the back of the boat, following each other to jump in, and getting a swimming sprint out to try for visual sighting of the whale shark.

Whale sharks are quick swimmers so it was hard to keep up with them ~ Photo Sunrider Tours

We weren’t able to catch up and swim close enough to the whale shark on our first jump in the water to be able to see it.  The water temperature felt OK especially since we were wearing wet suits and the water clarity was fairly murky from it being somewhat windy.  So then you have to swim back to the boat, load everyone back up, and then drive near the whale shark again.  It is a workout and those whale sharks are fast.

The second time of jumping in, we were able to have it swim right underneath us to experience the awe-inspiring experience of their quiet, graceful, and fast gliding past us.  Then you can’t keep up with them, so they continue on with their swimming while you repeat swimming back to the boat and so you can repeat the procedure again.

We repeated the procedure a couple more times of spotting them, jumping in, swimming quickly to see them, try to keep up with them, enjoying the presence of them, and then back to the boat.  And then that’s the limit of how long they allow you in the water to swim with them plus it’s a fair amount of physical exertion.

Then it’s time to make the trip back to the dock at the pier while rinsing off the equipment.  We worked up an appetite so the guide shared some snacks and cerveza while we thought of more questions to ask him about the bay, city, and other animals.

We don’t have a GoPro to show what it’s like to swim with the whale sharks, but here’s a link to a YouTube video that basically shows what we experienced except it was more murky.

This has been at the top of my wish list for a year to do in La Paz.  I only wish it would have been less windy for clearer water and glassier surface.  There are many places in the world where you can swim with whale sharks.  If you ever get the chance, give it a try so you can say you swam with sharks!

Does this inspire you to want to swim with a whale shark?

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