We thought we had already done the swimming with whale sharks thing. July. Isla Holbox, Mexico. $70 bucks a person. Two jumps in. Two minutes a jump. And we thought it was amazing!
One of the whale sharks we saw in Utila... this time we took photos!
But when whale sharks were spotted by dive boats around Utila, we started getting antsy. And when our dive boat started spotting them and taking divers to snorkel with them, and we weren't on the boat (because there was no room for us), we started getting really antsy. Okay, maybe antsy doesn't cut it. Bitter is a little more like it.
So when one of our friends, Bogdan, suggested we hire a boat and go out searching for them one afternoon, we were in. The boat captain, Alex, was his good friend of his, so we only had to pay the cost of gas... roughly $10/person.
Bogdan, Jutta (another good friend of ours from Austria), Mike, and I took off at about 3:00 in the afternoon, hoping to get lucky. Everyone on board knew that there were no guarantees, but we were all brimming with excitement. We went to the north side of Utila and, within minutes of searching, saw our first "boil." I was so excited I nearly peed my pants.
Searching for boils, while Bogdan demonstrates the family friendly sign for whale shark
A boil, if you are wondering, is how you spot the feeding whale sharks near the surface. The whale sharks are always accompanied by a swarm of other plankton feeders which attract the attention of larger predator fish like tuna. All this movement near the surface makes the water look like it is literally boiling. Birds are also attracted by the action and the easiest way to spot a boil from a distance is to watch for swooping birds.
We jumped in, swam a little ways and there it was... a magnificent, massive whale shark. This guy was about 6-7 m long and when I first spotted him he was vertical, head up, feeding on the plankton. In no time at all, he lowered his huge body and started swimming away.
When you watch videos of these guys, it looks like they are swimming nice and slow, but they're not. Because of their size and power, these guys motor and you have to swim your heart out to try and keep up.
In Mexico, we swam along beside the head of the whale shark and couldn't even see the tail when we turned back. This is not because of the animal's size, it was because of the poor visibility. In Utila, the visibility was excellent in comparison, and we could see the entire whale shark from a good distance underwater.
Snorkeling with the largest fish in the world
Once the tail faded out of sight, we returned to the boat and pulled ourselves up into the skiff in what could only be described as an incredibly ungraceful manner (in fact, I was left with so many bruises from this that friends were wondering about spousal abuse). We flopped down happy and satisfied and immediately spotted two more boils. The rest of our afternoon followed the same pattern... spot a boil, chase it down with the boat, jump in, try and keep up, flop into the boat, repeat. All in all, we jumped in about ten times. Personally, I saw five whalesharks. Okay, I actually only saw one of two different whalesharks (one was 6-7 m long, the other 9-10 m) on five separate occasions. And I was elated!
Check out the smile on my face!
Comparing my experience with those of my friends on the dive boat (including Jutta who had just been on the boat that morning when they spotted whale sharks), we had the perfect set up. Instead of twenty people fighting to get in the water, there were just four of us. No one jumped in on top of our heads. We knew what we were doing, so we slipped gently into the water instead of crashing in and scaring the whale shark away. We could also spread ourselves out so we saw more than just the bubbles of someone's kicking fins in front of us.
On the boat ride back to our home on little Jewel Cay, we were treated with some spectacular views lit by the setting sun.
This whale shark experience totally blew our previous one out of the water (and, at a fraction of the cost, how can you go wrong?). The only words I could use to describe it when I got back was "f***ing brilliant" and I could not wipe the smile off my face for days.
Jutta and I... seriously just loving life!
If you ever get the chance to swim with these mammoth creatures, don't think twice. Do it. The experience is magical and phenomenal and something you will never EVER forget.
Mike and Ashley Lenzen are a married couple from Canada. They spent 21 consecutive months globe trotting between July 6th, 2011 and March 24th, 2013. After two months of touring their own country, they've set out again.
They are currently volunteering for 12 months in the country of Bhutan. Read More...
Last updated January 20, 2014 Statistics kept from July 6, 2011 to present
Countries visited: 20 Total distance traveled: 102,848 km # of different "beds" slept in: 165 More RTW Stats...