“Don’t be afraid senor, they are harmless.” I knew that, damn it. I knew that whale sharks were harmless. I knew that in spite of the fact they’re as large as a bus that they wouldn’t hurt a fly. The largest fish in the world, the whale shark is a filter feeder and eats huge amounts of floating plankton to survive. But all of that knowledge escaped my head as the giant creature barreled towards me, mouth agape consuming vast quantities of the ocean as it swam.
That was how my morning swim with these massive and beautiful creatures began. I was in Mexico as the guest of the Villa del Palmar resort in Cancun who helped me realize an adventure travel dream. I love that a luxury resort places so much emphasis on the experiences and not just fancy towels and soaps. They understand that a truly exceptional trip is all about the adventure.
And an adventure it was. After getting over my initial shock of dozens of giant fish coming straight for me, I began to learn the system. The whale sharks breach as they swim in order to scoop up bits of food. You can see their dorsal fins coming as they approach and then you have a few moments to get out of the way. I wasn’t worried for my safety per se, but there’s a strict no touching rule and I tried to adhere to it as well as I could. But the whale sharks aren’t so cooperative, and more than once I found myself on the receiving end of their tail fins and even on top of them at one point.
Like many wildlife experiences, the time flew by as I searched out the massive fish. I didn’t have to look very hard though, hundreds of them swam past in what is one of the largest assemblies of the whale shark in recent memory. It was a magical experience, one of those moments where you have to pinch yourself to believe that it’s actually happening.
That’s probably what I love most about wildlife experiences when I travel, the fact that they’re so unique, even if hundreds of people are joining in the fun. No two people will enjoy the same moment of exhilaration; they’ll happen but will be different for everyone.
I left the waters exhausted and happy, devouring a sandwich as the boat made the hour-long trek back to Cancun and my luxury room at the Villa del Palmar. Was the trip to Mexico for my whale shark adventure worth it? Well I wasn’t eaten and have amazing memories to last a lifetime; I couldn’t have asked for anything more.