Last updated: 10:00 AM ET, Sat September 26 2015

Opinion Home | Far-Sighted Field Notes

  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | September 26, 2015 10:00 AM ET

    The Wonder Of Whale Sharks

    The Wonder Of Whale Sharks

    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

    I'm not one of those people that thrives on doing crazy things while traveling. I like adventur, but I don't consider jumping from planes and dangling from buildings adventure. I consider it stupidity.  So I was a little confused with myself when I faced a cluster of huge, spotted heads floating in the water. As I peered closer, I realized that I wasn't hallucinating. I was surrounded by whale sharks, some as long as 40 or 50 feet and I would soon be swimming next to them, the largest fish in the world.

    According to the eerily calm tour guides of Eco Colors Tours, there are only two places in the world to see whale sharks: Australia and Mexico. And although I later learned from other divers that whale sharks in fact inhabit all tropical waters, it is true that Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is one of the most reliable places on earth to see and swim with these colossal creatures.

    My journey started at 6 a.m., with crowds and lines, followed by endless hours in a rocking boat that almost turned me, as well as my stomach, against this shark adventure. I had arrived at Puerto Juarez pier on the northeast side of the Yucatan Peninsula where the Caribbean Sea beckoned with tranquil waves. But the waves didn't stay tranquil and neither did my stomach.

    Although they share the shark family tree, whale sharks don’t attack or swim quickly. They are slow moving, filter feeders that spend most of their time near the water’s surface, which makes it possible to swim beside them. But it takes time to find them in the open ocean.

    Finally, our guide saw them, and pointed to the faint dots floating beneath the water like spooky, speckled, boulders. As he shouted for us to get in, we spotted a baby whale shark swimming right next to the boat. It felt like a personal invitation. My eyes adjusted and I discerned three more whale sharks, covered in distinctive pale polka dots and rearing their wide, flat heads. Just watching them from the boat felt like a mystical experience, like I had spied a ghost out of the corner of my eye. My stomach twirled but I ignored it, pulled on my mask and splashed into the water.

    Our guide instructed us not to swim in front of the sharks because their eyes are on the side and they can’t see in front. Instead, I swam around them and the huge fish swam around me, brushing up against my skin. The size, the scale, the pace, the feeling of floating with these creatures was a completely different life experience, like dipping into another realm.

    Although they were certainly huge creatures, they displayed calm, gentle natures. They didn’t seem bothered by our presence and that made me feel comfortable.  The sharks just glided in the water alongside us, sometimes circling around us and sometimes gently nuzzling us.

    All the apprehension I felt before just melted away and it felt like a natural thing, swimming in the ocean next to whale sharks. As I swam next to them, I congratulated myself for leaving my comfort zone and good sense behind so that I could be with whale sharks.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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