I know many divers who have this marvelous sea creature on their bucket list. I myself have only had the pleasure of experiencing these beauties a couple of times on my dive travels, but hope to have the pleasure of meeting again many times. I am speaking of one of the gentle giants of our oceans – the whale shark.
A few summers back now, I had the pleasure of cruising the Sea of Cortez and its midriff islands aboard the Rocio del Mar. Our final stop before returning to our home port was Bahia de Los Angeles. Our goal, to snorkel with the whale sharks that resided in this bay at this particular time of year. Needless to say, we weren’t disappointed.
Spotting these docile creatures was not an easy feat at first. We trolled the bay slowly in our wooden panga, keeping our eyes peeled for that tell-tale dorsal fin. The surface of the bay was like glass that morning except for the wake created by our outboard motor. It seemed like an eternity passed before something other than our motor disturbed the serenity of the water. Finally Mayo, our divemaster, had spotted the fin of a “small” whale shark. This young whale shark appeared to be maybe 15 feet in length judging in comparison to our boat. As we had been instructed, we did our best to slip silently into the water and keep our fin slapping to a minimum as we snorkeled as fast as we could to catch up to it. It really hadn’t dawned on me before this moment just how fast these guys could swim. Being that large, it didn’t take all that much to swish their tail and power away. Unfortunately, my first encounter didn’t last long. Being so young, this particular whale shark was very shy and disappeared into the dark depths of the bay before I could really get a good look at him.
Thank goodness, though, it wasn’t long before we spotted a more mature whale shark, maybe 20 feet long, who was more patient with us and did not seemed deterred with us snorkeling next to him (or her, I never did figure out which). I was in awe. It was so beautiful with its unusually small eyes juxtaposed on that large gray body speckled with bright white spots and a pale underside. And thank goodness this one was not out to break any water speed records. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, swimming next to this docile being, doing my best to capture the moment on video. I came to another realization that day during my encounters with this and another whale shark later. I am insignificantly small next to them and when they change direction, you better be prepared. I was politely pushed out of the way by a pectoral fin when I didn’t anticipate the new path to feeding. Those fins are a lot more solid than I expected, however I was more worried about hurting it than of it hurting me.
Snorkeling with the whale sharks was an unforgettable experience. One of my favorites. So where and when can you experience the beauty of snorkeling with a whale shark for yourself? Here are some of the top destinations and best times of the year to do just that.
Do you have another favorite spot to add to my list?
CENTRAL & LATIN AMERICA
Isla Holbox, Mexico (northern side of the Yucatan Peninsula)
When to go: Mid-July through August
Isla Mujeres, Mexico (eastern side of the Yucatan Peninsula)
When to go: May through September
* Annual Whale Shark Festival takes place in mid-June
Gladden Spit, Belize (near Placencia)/Silk Cayes Marine Reserve
When to go: April and May
* Plan your visit within 3 days of the full moon as this is when the whale sharks are attracted by the spawning of the cubera snappers
When to go: Year-Round, with greatest chance for sightings in February through April, as well as September and October
Sea of Cortez
Bahia de La Paz, Baja (North-Central Coast), Mexico
When to go: October through February
Bahia de Los Angeles, Baja (Southeastern Coast), Mexico
When to go: August through October
Puerto Ayora, Ecuador
When to go: May through October, with the best month being July
Darwin Island and Wolf Island, Galapagos
When to go: June through December
Revillagigedo Islands (“Socorro Islands”), Mexico
When to go: May through December, with the special treat of November & December when they are accompanied by giant mantas
Richelieu Rock, Thailand
When to go: February through May
Donsol Bay, Luzon, Philippines
When to go: November to June, the greatest chance for sightings February to April
Honda Bay (Puerto Princesa), Palawan, Philippines
When to go: April through November
Oslob, Cebu, Philippines
When to go: Year-round, but best weather conditions are March through May
Ningaloo Reef, Australia
When to go: April through July
Ari & Baa Atolls, Maldives
When to go: (Western side) May through December
(Eastern side) December through April
When to go: August through October
Cabo San Sebastian, Mozambique
When to go: November through February
Tofo Beach, Mozambique
When to go: Year-round, but best time is primarily June to January
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