Whaleshark tour at the Riviera Maya.

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We had just dropped in to the beautiful blue, Gail, a new friend from Salt Lake City, myself and our guide, Roberto. At first, the view was a cluster of splashing limbs and fins as we swam close together, eager to see our first Whale Shark! I had been waiting eight years for this.
So far, all I could see was the back of our guide, his lifejacket and Gail flailing along side. Then, Roberto swam slightly ahead, revealing this massive open mouth, attached to about 8 metres of Whale Shark, coming directly at us! I could feel Gail’s body go into fright and flight, she later told me it was the most terrifying and exciting moment of her life. If I didn’t have a snorkel in my mouth, I may have uttered something clever, like “Holy Cow!”
Of course, we look nothing like plankton, so this graceful creature simply dove under us, its enormous tail fin moving from side to side as it descended. It was easy to keep pace above, until it disappeared from view. Roberto and I gave huge thumbs up under water. I finally saw a Whale Shark! My day was made and it had only just begun. I could have gone home right then and been thrilled with my first experience with a whaleshark.
Like I said, it was just the beginning. Our group of nine, including Gail’s friends from L.A., an engineer from Guadalajara, a lovely Mexican family from Guanajuato and an American couple from Washington State, had now all had a swim with the king of fishes. The first three Whale Sharks we saw dove deep soon after we got in the water, but everyone had, at least, their first glimpse. Like me, everyone was beaming in wonder at their beauty, size and gentleness.
So, there we are, cruising in the open water for as far as you can see, then, for just a second, a dorsal fin! Then another! Then we see that giant mouth again, of yet another, scooping up to the surface. We had apparently arrived at the Whale Shark restaurant, we couldn’t believe it! There were too many to count. Everyone was smiling and scrambling to geared up and ready for our turn in the water.

Honestly, I don’t know how Roberto did it, he was in and out of the water with each pair of snorkelers for at least two hours straight! Our Captain, was a master at keeping the boat a safe distance from the Whale Sharks, but getting us close enough to swim with them.
Though Gail said she continued to be nervous, there was no stopping her from getting back in the water with them. She said she just couldn’t get over how something so big, could be so gentle.
We all had at least five turns in the sea, buddying up with these colossal creatures. It is indeed sensory overload. First you are thinking, I am swimming with a Whale Shark!!!! Then the brain kicks in and says, ‘well take a look, what do you see, what can you learn, how is each one different, how do they feed, can you help with conservation efforts by taking photos of tags or distinguishing marks.’ But then the excited child in you comes back…I AM SWIMMING WITH WHALESHARKS!!!
I thought Abraham, from Guadalajara, was going to swim all the way to Honduras with them, he just kept going and going. He did say it was on his “Bucket List”. Well, he can put a huge check mark in that box.
I am not sure what all of our expectations were. I do know we would have been quite happy to see just seen one. There were more Whale Sharks than there was time to see them and we had already been indulged by a crew that allowed us numerous opportunities to get close, to experience the fish in the water and appreciate these beautiful creatures. I was also very happy to see only two or three other boats in the area. I do feel while it is important to be able to observe and learn about Whale Sharks, it is even more important to allow them to be as undisturbed as possible in their habitat and never risk their safety or security. It was an unforgettable experience. We all felt incredibly lucky.
By Denelle Balfour

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