As whale shark season is approaching, it it time for me to do my annual repost of this article. Every year when these giants visit the waters off Isla Mujeres, we always go out to marvel at these beautiful creatures. It is an experience not to be missed.
I've had a pretty adventurous life so far. A few of my excursions have included: whitewater rafting down the Snake River in Idaho, riding in a camel caravan in India, and tromping through the jungles of Indonesia on the back of an elephant. But of all the adventures I have experienced, I consider swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres as the greatest wonder of all. I can hardly believe it is possible for the general public to be able to take a boat ride out to sea and swim in the wild with these gentle giants. During the months of June through September the whale sharks migrate through the area in swarms that the locals call afuera following plankton blooms created by the joining of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. This migratory path was only discovered about 6 years ago by local fishermen. Nowhere else in the world do whale sharks gather in such numbers. In the summer of 2009, 420 whale sharks comprised the largest number of whale sharks observed in a single aerial survey.
It is not uncommon for me to hear of friends swimming with several hundred whale sharks. Giant manta rays measuring about 10 ft. across follow the same plankton blooms and are often seen with whale sharks. Since both are filter feeders they share the same migratory paths. The primary reaction to experiencing these mammoths of the deep is heart pounding awe. Spanning up to 40 feet and weighing on average 36 tons these pescados are the world's largest fish species. There are unconfirmed reports of much larger specimens of 59 feet all the way up to 75 feet, but since they are aren't documented they are relegated to remaining fish stories for the time being. Despite their enormous size, these sharks pose no threat to humans. They are very docile and seem undisturbed by any contact with people. Licensed tours do follow special rules to protect the whale sharks from harassment from over-exuberant tourists. They are asked not to touch the whale sharks and boats are instructed to stay 10 meters from the whale sharks. The later rule is a little hard to enforce since often the sharks swim right up to the boat as if to take a look at you.
These majestic sea creatures are still relative mysteries to the scientific world. Their lives span between 70 to 100 years most of which is spent out of sight. Capable of diving up to a mile and a half down into the ocean depths and migrating thousands of miles at a time these marine marvels still hold many secrets yet to be discovered. Yet for ages the world over the whale shark has been revered and respected. To the Vietnamese he is known as a deity called Ca Ong translated "Sir Fish." To much of Mexico and Latin America he is Pez Dama or Domini, because of the spots on his back. In Africa he is Papa Shillingi. To the peoples of Madagascar, he is called Marokintana meaning "many stars." To me, he is Magi - a wise king wandering the deep. Now is the time to see these wonders of the water while it is still possible to interact with these giants in such a personal, and profound encounter. Feel the current of the water as they swim next to you, look them in the eye and feel the rush of a lifetime. Visit Isla Mujeres now and experience the marvel of the Magi!