Thursday, 24 November 2016

Baja California - La Paz, swimming with Whale Sharks

Well my careful, at home, day with salad and ginger broth soup (and lots of activated charcoal pills) paid off and I awoke fine. Even risked a cup of coffee before walking down to the malecon. This time I timed it. It took me 45 minutes to walk down to the centro area of the malecon.
The only other people taking the trip today with Club Cantemar Tours were 2 young French gentlemen, Arno and Charles. The 3 of us were walked over to the small pier and handed over to another young man with a small boat, Phillipe. There were a lot of small boats loading up with passengers, some of them had come all the way from Cabo San Lucas for the opportunity to swim with the Whale Sharks.
We headed out of the sheltered harbour area, around a sand spit with a huge development, and out into rougher water.
Phillipe didn't speak much English so I was in the interesting position of two Frenchmen translating from Spanish to English for me. Phillipe told us to stay at least one metre away from the whale sharks and 2 metres from their tails as they could accidentally hurt you. He said that they can be scared by too much splashing so to kick our legs slowly and not to touch them.
We asked how we would know when there was one and he said that when they are near the surface you can see their dorsal fin and their tail fin. We went towards an area with other boat bobbing around.
Dorsal fin
We could see fins and swirls, bubbles in the water. Phillipe edged the boat closer. We sat on the side of the boat, with our snorkel gear on, waiting for him to tell us it was time to go in. One swam towards us, it was as long as the boat, Phillipe told us to go in but I found it rather intimidating and waited for the others to go in first. He didn't react to them at all, just kept gently swimming along. I went in.
The water was murky, full of the plankton they are eating, so it isn't until they are quite close (yes, about 1 metre) that you can get a good look at them. They pay no attention to the swimmers or to the schools of fish swimming along side and under them. They just slowly swim along with their huge, wide mouths taking in everything in front of them.
Swimming towards me, that's his wide mouth. He's just a young one, only about 8 feet long and grey.
They don't seem to be bothered by the boats. That shadow is one about to go under ours. The boat drivers try and stay away, giving the swimmers the opportunity to safely swim with them.
Swimming with them is peaceful and fascinating, they make no noise, the only sound was my breath in my snorkel. Its hard to keep a metre away as they sometimes turn towards you and I don't back pedal too well with fins on. Scared the life out of me when one turned and swam right underneath me. I could have reached out and touched him. I didn't.
They swim faster than we do so when one was too far away we would return to the boat and Phillipe would position us near another one. I went over the side 3 times and then I felt like we were harassing them (though they seemed oblivious to us) and I didn't like the little jellyfish that were also floating just below the surface, so I just enjoyed watching them and taking pictures from the boat.
A baby
An adult, bigger and darker.
Charles, Arno and whale shark
Lovely colouring, splotches of a myriad of different greys.
Charles had a waterproof camera but wasn't sure how well his pictures and video would come out because the water was so murky. Swimming with them was an amazing experience, there are lots of youtube videos so have a look, it was really like that    click here and hopefully it will get you to a video

We were out there for about an hour, swimming, getting back in the boat, jumping back in etc, etc. Phillipe was our spotter, telling us which way they were going to swim or if another was coming from behind. There were about 20 boats out there and plenty of whale sharks to go around. They tended to swim by themselves so we were not bumping into other boats or other swimmers.
Heading back in tired but enthralled by the experience.
From wiki:
The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is a slow-moving filter feeding shark and the largest known extant fish species. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 m (41.5 ft) and a weight of about 21.5 t (47,000 lb).[3] The whale shark holds many records for sheer size in the animal kingdom, most notably being by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate.
The whale shark is found in open waters of the tropical oceans and is rarely found in water below 22 °C (72 °F). Modeling suggests a lifespan of about 70 years, but measurements have proven difficult.[5] They have very large mouths and are filter feeders, which is a feeding mode that occurs in only two other sharks, the megamouth shark and the basking shark. They feed almost exclusively on plankton and, therefore, are completely harmless to humans.

The largest one we saw today was about 7 metres, 20ft, long. Most were 5 or 6 metres.
Returning to La Paz
A grumpy looking heron and a sleeping pelican greet us at the dock.
I taxied home, tired from the walk down, the swimming and the bumpy boat ride. Made myself gaucomole for lunch (the avocados are heavenly here) and settled down with a glass of wine and a book for the afternoon.

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