Swimming with frickin’ whale sharks

As we headed to BCS, which is how all the hip kids call Baja California Sur (I’m pretty certain they don’t), we actually had a shopping list of underwater creatures we wanted to see, and there was supposed to be a tattoo at the outset if we saw all of them. Spoilers: we didn’t, so no tattoo. The list was composed of whale sharks, sea lions and hammerhead sharks.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad, the hammerhead statue did not count.

Many marine themed sculptures along the malecon (stone built boardwalk or embankment) in La Paz.

On our first evening in La Paz I think all we did was go to the Chedraui (basically a Mexican Costco, but it does seem to “cuesta menos” even though in my opinion La Comer is actually better and fancier) for some supplies, then next morning we were out and about to book some dives and jumped on a chance to go snorkelling with whale sharks that very afternoon. The dive shop we were interested in was full booked for the next morning (rage, but then again, when dealing with things in flux, it might be better not to have hard commitments) so we talked to another dive operator who honestly set off all of my alarms. The team might have been a go for it, but I pretty much torpedoed the idea, something was way off about this dude. Screw that.

So instead we went looking for tiburon balleanas. It started off slow, we scoured the bay outside La Paz for nearly two hours without any luck, and the captain had actually turned the boat around. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t right? However, right about then, our guide pointed to a vague shadow in the water and told us to get ready. There was only the three of us on the boat and we were pretty excited. Swim with the biggest fish in the world? Yes please.

We jumped in following our guide, all recommendations to slip into the water quietly immensely forgotten, and swam like the Dickens after the shark, I caught its tail end (literally) and counted myself lucky. The others barely saw anything but the suggestion of a stately and slow mass shifting through the waters. We got back on the boat and the chase began anew.

Tail end of the shadowy gentle giant.

Now, before the super hippie dippie people start hassling me about whale shark harassment let me point out three things:

A) Those sharks actually come back into that bay out of their own volition every year, a few shrimp sized snorkelers swimming besides them (and yes, boats buzzing above) does not seem to have scared them off. Are there more or less of them, I don’t know.

B) The shark watching industry has lead to very severe regulations being enacted to protect the species. It looks like some fishermen have figured out that if you kill a fish you get paid only once, but if you take gringos to see a fish you can get paid every day. Win.

C) The ocean is a tough place, you know who bullies whale sharks? Apparently dolphins. For reasons unexplained they attack the sharks and try to poke them in the belly. It might be play, it might be territorial, we don’t know.

Rant over.

Having clearly spotted the shark, the captain did his best to drop us ahead of him, right on his trajectory.

You can judge for yourselves.

It was incredibly majestic. Though not a “big” specimen, at well over 18 feet, being so close to a creature so big yet so graceful (and quick, the poor humans were doing all they could to keep up) was probably not unlike an underwater tea ceremony. It was transient, beautiful and for a while reconciled me with the world.



We celebrated by drinking Pacifico beer while looking out at the Sea of Cortez (aka the California Gulf) from the kick-ass patio of our rented condo. Yeah, pretty royal.

Pacifico on the Pacific coast, most appropriate.

The trip was off to an awesome start.

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