Whale sharks are sharks the size of whales, but unlike other sharks, they are not the least bit scary. Even so, swimming with creatures as large as 60-feet is an adrenalin experience, as I found out on a recent whale shark tour in the Gulf of Mexico near Cancun.
Whale sharks are annual visitors to the area around the Maya Riviera, esspecially around and the islands of Isla Mujeres, Holbox and Contoy, between May and September. Their presence is celebrated with daily whale shark tours. On any day, there are a dozen or more tour boats graciously waiting turns for their passengers to snorkel with these beautiful creatures, whose grey skin is punctuated by polka-dots that can be bright neon blue or a less interesting creamy beige.
Mexican Day of the Whale Shark
Whale sharks – and the tourists who pay to see them – are so important that Mexico has designated August 30 as the Mexican Day of the Whale Shark.
These beautiful beasts are vegetarians, so swimming with them is safe, although whale shark tour boats generally don’t take children under the age of 12. Basically, the whale sharks ignore you and just stay on their course. Depending on the depth they are swimming, you either swim alongside or above them.
Tour boats take turns allowing passengers in the water, rotating the passengers each time, so the whale sharks are not scared off or injured, and everybody gets a few chances to jump into the water. On my first two jumps, I tried to capture the experience with a small underwater camera. My advice is not to bother with a camera, which is what I did on my third and fourth jumps.
Be sure to chose a small tour boat. Fewer passsengers means more time in the water. My whale shark tour boat, Cruise Divers, takes no more than 8-10 passengers, compared with several dozen on other boats. I also went scuba diving with them to the Underwater Museum in the waters between Cancun and Isla Mujeres, but that’s another story for another day.
Read more about my experience swimming with whale sharks, dolphins and turtles in Mexico in my article published on FoxNews.com/travel.