The Wonder of Whale Sharks
by Susan Campbell, Whale photos: Cancun Adventures, Hotel Photos: www.secretsresorts.com
Though our summers here in Montreal are glorious, there is a really good reason to go to Cancun in the middle of August if you love marine life, and are seeking the thrill of a lifetime. That’s the only time of year you are virtually guaranteed to be able to encounter and snorkel the world’s biggest fish- whale sharks! No worries, they don’t eat humans. In fact they are strictly filter feeding plankton eaters, and though they can grow to the size of a small school bus (40 ft.,) they are perfectly gentle. You just need to stay out of the way of their tail, as it’s a powerful propeller that can send you reeling!
So What’s A Whale Shark?
Not much is known about these giants of the deep; in fact, scientists have been busy the last few years trying to figure out what makes them tick. They have rarely been seen mating and they don’t travel in pods. They are very solitary creatures, and though of the shark family they are more the size of whales and look like giant catfish without the whiskers. And they only get together when the underwater dinner bell rings and there is a great feast of their favorite food- plankton, krill and tuna eggs as there is each year in the summer just off Cancun.
Choose The Right Operator
This was my second whale shark swim. I enjoyed it so much a few years ago I had to return, and this time I also brought along a fellow female travel writer friend. Though she’s not much of a water person, this experience is easy. You must wear a life jacket anyway, and the saltwater helps you float- it’s simply a matter of keeping up to the animals. But it’s very important to choose a reputable tour operator, as it’s not highly regulated. The adventure takes place in international waters, and though there are safety and behavior guidelines and even laws, they are difficult to enforce.
I relied on Amstar DMC to steer us right and book the ideal operator for it. They are my favorite most trusted tour and transfer company in Mexico, and once again they came through big time. They chose the Cancun Adventures Company and our time with them was outstanding. They only take very small groups, and our guide- who also doubled as our photographer and videographer- was extremely well informed about the animals and highly concerned with our safety. Some operators take huge groups of tourists and just set them loose on the whale sharks, and even chase them with boats. So if you go, please ensure that you book with a decent outfit.
A Surreal Encounter
The entire activity takes about 8 hours. You leave early from Cancun, and sometimes it takes awhile to find the whale sharks, but when you do they are typically all together in one spot. Snorkeling with them is surreal- a little scary at first- but then magical. We even had a baby whale shark swim right up to the our boat to check it out! Mind you, they don’t seem to be as intelligent as whales or dolphins – you don’t get a sense of connection with them. I assume they just think we are weird looking fish, and basically their biggest concern is taking in as much food as possible while they are there. But they are gentle and easy going, and will only dive deep if you are annoying them or if they don’t like your smell! You are asked to wear as few chemicals as possible- deodorant, sunscreen even shampoo bothers their eyes and they will take off if they become irritated by it.
After the epic adventure you stop at gorgeous Isla Mujeres for lunch (the Island of Women) just off Cancun at a breathtaking beach and view the photos and videos they took which you will surely want to purchase for posterity. Though you are welcome to take your own photos as well.
The Ideal Stay- Secrets Playa Mujeres
Ten minutes north of the main tourist strip of Cancun is a brand new resort that was ideal for our glorious girls getaway, and also as a base to do the whale shark adventure. Directly across from it is Isla Mujeres (Playa Mujeres means the beach of women) and we both stayed in a Preferred Club suite with our very own dipping pool facing a sprawling white sand beach with calm aqua waters. Divine!
The Secrets brand is always adult-only and upscale all-inclusive, and this new installation is absolutely stunning with a world-class spa and every conceivable luxury you can imagine. We absolutely loved it. And if you golf, it’s minutes away from a premium course as well. We don’t golf, but there was plenty to do there including enjoying all the offerings that come along with Unlimited Luxury® their trademark all-inclusive program. Turned out we hardly had enough time to sample all of it either- unlimited cocktails, 24/7 room service, fine no-reservation dining at multiple themed restaurants, and tons of entertainment and nature activities. It was exhausting just trying to enjoy everything! But it did end up being the perfect way to completely rejuvenate and celebrate our exciting escapades with whale sharks. I highly recommend both.
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