Tuesday, August 30, 2011
The first time I glimpsed the dots bubbling underneath the ocean on the left, I thought I was hallucinating. I had sailed a jerky, sun-scorching hour to get to the whale shark reserve of Isla Contoy on the Yucatan Peninsula and needless to say, I wasn't in the best mental state. The dreaded sea-seasickness had kicked in and I wasn't sure if I was seeing things.
When we set off at the crack of dawn for EcoColors Whale Shark Adventure, I didn't know what to expect. I certainly didn't expect this Mayan warrior above, jumping and waving his talisman on the dock. I think he was wishing us vaya con Dios Americanos estupidos. It did not feel comforting but what did I know?
I was still smiling when I hopped on the boat, excited about this once-in-a lifetime experience. There are only two places you can see whale sharks in the world:Australia and Mexico. And I wasn't going to just see them, I was going to splash down right next to them and snorkel.
By the time we set sail and the ocean rippled and rocked our small boat, I was having tiny second thoughts. Whale sharks are the biggest fish on Earth, averaging 41,50 feet and 47,000 pounds. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to get all up in their face. Just at that point, the bubbles rose up to reveal a cluster of polka-dotted whale sharks, surrounding our boat. It was almost like they were inviting us to join them.
This baby whale shark floated so close that I could touch him. I slung on my snorkel mask and jumped in, queasy stomach and all. Our naturalist guide led us to a small group of whale sharks, We were instructed not to swim in front of the sharks because their eyes are on the side and they can't see in front. We swam on the side of the speckled fish, which are part of the shark family but are a slow-moving, filter-feeding variety. They eat plankton, microscopic plants and small animals. I was assured that human morsels are not included in their diet, which is a good thing because they swam so close to me that they brushed up against my skin. Although they ballooned out hundreds of feet around me, they weren't menacing but playful, like dolphins. Unlike dolphins, whale sharks are classified as "vulnerable to extinction" on the World Conversation Union's Red List. I'm glad I endured the six-hour adventure, there are only about 2,500 whale sharks in Mexico and I snagged an up close and personal visit with quite a few of them.