“Mum. If we’re going to Mexico we have to swim with whale sharks”.

When most people think of Cancun they immediately think of Spring Break. Getting off your tits in Señor Frogs on Tequila and jello shots. My first thought however, was much more Tiburón than tequila. I knew that Mexico was a prime location for swimming with whale sharks – specifically the Caribbean sea side where me and my mum were heading for a two week holiday in July 2016.

There was no question in my mind, if we were going to be in that part of the world we had to make the plunge and swim with the ocean’s gentle giants. The company I decided on after a bit of research was Ocean Tours Mexico. Their day tour included return transfers from our hotel, breakfast, swimming with the whale sharks as many times as feesible on the day and a few hours in Isla Mujeres with lunch and drinks, all for roughly $178 (£130).

The breakfast we were provided with was a continental one with mostly basic pastries, fruit and juice. After breakfast you could choose between renting a wetsuit, or just using a life jacket for free. I am a pretty confident swimmer and I find life jackets extremely annoying, especially when you want to dive down and swim alongside something, so I opted for the wetsuit, my mum opted for the life jacket. We were also given sea sickness tablets, which I happily accepted after my sea sickness experience cage diving with great white sharks in South Africa, I was not taking that risk again!

Before heading out on the boat, we were told to please not apply any suncream or other sprays as all of the chemicals in the products create an oily film on top of the water that is harmful to whale sharks – which is clearly not okay as they are a wonderful and protected species and we want to admire them not harm them. We were also told not to touch them (obviously) as we have germs and oils on our skin that also could potentially damage them. I had read most of this in advance so I was all prepared to get sunburnt with my suncream free skin; it’s for the whale sharks!

The boat journey out to the whale sharks was relatively lengthy – probably an hour or so of sailing; when you have the world’s biggest fish to accommodate the sea’s gotta be deep! But when you’re surrounded by beautifully blue, pristine waters a boat journey is nothing but relaxing. It was easy to tell when we had arrived at the site where all of the whale sharks were – as there were already about 10 or so other boats full of tourists waiting for a chance to jump in alongside those gentle giants. It did seem a bit too busy for me at first; I was hoping for a less commercialised, more natural experience. But I guess that was just a pipe dream when it comes to activites like this, especially in the ever popular Cancun. I was still gleefully excited though upon catching my first sight of a gigantic spotty shadow below the water… and then another… and then another! There were literally hundreds of them swimming about having their lunch and it was mind-blowingly epic. To see one whale shark is fantastic enough, but to see that many in one place was incredible. The reason there are so many whale sharks in this particular area is because it is where the Gulf of Mexico and the Northwestern Caribbean Sea meet and mix together, creating a hot bed for plankton – the whale sharks favourite snack!

Whale Shark Mouth
A Whale Shark’s open mouth filtering the plankton!

Within our small group we took it in turns jumping into the water multiple times with the sharks. We would sit on the side of the boat with our fins, snorkle and mask on all ready, and jump in as soon as the guide told us to. He pre-warned us that as soon as we hit the water we needed to start swimming if we had any chance of keeping up with the whale sharks. Those bad boys were FAST. Even though from a distance they look like they are swimming relatively slowly, this is only because of the sheer size of them. When your flimsy, human, land-body is trying to keep up along side one of them you truly see how NOT slow they are. Every time I would get back onto the boat after each turn with them, only then would I realise just how out of breath I was due to the constant, fast-paced swimming!

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One of the first things I saw upon jumping in for the first time was a huge, gaping mouth coming towards me. Uh oh, I thought, time to be swallowed alive. But I needn’t have worried, when you come too close to a whale shark’s mouth they just gently close it shut, they really do not want to eat you, you’re waaaay too big. They like their meals microscopic.

Sillouettes
Side by side silhouettes – human and whale shark

I found it somewhat difficult trying to manoeuvre myself in the water to stay far enough away from them so as not to touch them, but close enough to truly take in their awesomeness. At times I was flapping about as they swam towards me trying to get out of their way, it probably looked ridiculous – but I was having a freaking brilliant time, clearly:

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After many exhilarating swimming sessions with the sharkies, it was time to head on to our next destination – Isla Mujeres for lunch. It was basically like sailing directly into heaven, I mean – if heaven existed this is what it would look like:

Water so clear you can barely even tell where it begins! Floating around with a cerveza in hand, eating lunch in bath-temperature sea is pretty much the life I’m telling you!

After lunch we headed to our last location of the day for some snorkeling on the second largest reef in the world (obviously after the famous Great Barrier Reef in Australia). I think the section we snorkeled on was just an extension of the reef though, so it wasn’t as teeming with fish and marine life as I would have hoped. But you can’t beat a nice snorkeling sesh! After this it was time to jump back on the boat and head back to land for some well deserved rest!

All in all the boat trip was wonderful, the whale sharks are just incredible and I would recommend every marine life lover to do this at least once in their life – see these beauties in the only way you should – in the ocean not in a tank.

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