So we were excited to have them visit and came up with all kinds of activities, especially since they had rented a car! We took a drive to Todos Santos one day and had cervezas at the Hotel California. We did an overnight snorkeling trip on Indigo to Balandra Bay. We ate way too much good food at local restaurants. We attended a Children’s Choir Christmas concert (Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Silent Night are surprisingly & heartwarmingly universal). But the highlight was the whale sharks...
We had been informed by several cruisers that this was a must-do excursion. So we went to Marlin Adventures right on the Malecon (boardwalk) and for a reasonable $48pp we acquired 3 hours of one-on-one snorkeling time with these behemoths.
Winter is prime whale shark season as they gather just a mile or so off the shoreline in the Bay of La Paz to feed in this plankton-rich location. Cruisers are not allowed to access this special spot via their own boat. Amongst other reasons, it protects the sharks from too many uninformed boat drivers in the water. The panga drivers know their feeding patterns and how close they can get without disturbing them. They also put a guide in the water to alert you to as their location since it’s hard to watch 360 degrees around yourself in the water. The sharks seem to completely ignore the snorkelers and aren’t going to care if they accidentally run you down. They are quiet swimmers and in the opaque, plankton-filled water, suddenly seeing that big mouth just a few feet away is mildly disconcerting, so it’s much better just to stay out of their way.
Once we arrived at the feeding grounds, we were surrounded by a dozen sharks. At lengths of typically 15ft up to 30ft long they are the biggest shark/fish species in the world. They are only called whale sharks due to their enormous size and the fact that instead of eating people, they eat plankton, similar to baleen whales. Whale sharks are amongst one of the longest living animals with a lifespan of reportedly 100 years.
They are certainly an intimidating sight from the boat, but being in the water with them was unreal. These gentile giants suspend themselves in the water at a 60 degree angle with their cavernous mouth agape at the surface allowing plankton to flow in. They seem to float like that until they decide to swim to the next spot. At this point they resemble their namesake, revealing shark-like vertical fins at the surface and swishy tail movements. While they move relatively slow and thankfully don’t dart around unpredictably, you don’t want to be near that huge tail.
Either they are so used to human snorkelers from the hundreds of us that visit them daily, or they just don’t care. We’ve been told by some people who encountered whale sharks outside La Paz, more in the “wild” farther north where people are rarer, that they are more curious about snorkelers and appear to want to interact. Either way, they just don’t seem to mind us sharing their environment and continue feeding, essentially ignoring our presence.
I was rarely closer than probably 8ft away so it was difficult to get good shots as the sky and water were cloudy. As soon as I got too close, which would have been perfect picture-taking distance, I backed away. They are huge! No way did I want my face close to that that 3-foot wide mouth or anywhere near that swishy tail. You could almost see them better from the boat. Our perspective changes from up high, so we got a much better sense for just how big these guys really are…some longer than our 20ft panga. As we stared at them in awe from the bow, Brian of course flippantly quotes the movie ‘Jaws’: “We need a bigger boat.”
Bucket list item complete.
See video link on YouTube…. the first video I have ever uploaded!