If viewing marine life is always a highlight on your vacations, you will have memories of a lifetime swimming with the largest fish species in the world - the whale shark. whale sharks vary in length many ranging from 10 feet to 30 feet; but don't worry, these gentle beasts that bear the name 'shark' are docile creatures that predominantly feed of plankton and are rather indifferent to curious snorkelers.
Out of a few select places in the world to view the whale shark, I journeyed to Isla Mujeres, an island off the coast of Cancun, Mexico, where the whale sharks pass through on their annual migration between June and September.
Laws protecting the species dictate the tour. Boats are to be smaller in size (approx 23-30 ft) and fast. Each boat is allowed to have up to 10 guests maximum and only 2 guests + a guide who is knowledgeable about the whale shark and skilled in water safety and emergency techniques are allowed in the water at a time. The pairs will be able to swim for 10 minutes at a time, before the next guests take their turn. You will have many opportunities to get back in for a second or third turn. You are not allowed to touch the whale shark and you need to be mindful of their tail which can knock you unconscious. You are required to wear a life vest, in the event of an emergency and to prevent you from swimming out of site and having another tour boat hit you.
You MUST be comfortable with and know how to swim in the ocean since you will be in deep water, unable to see the sea floor...And the waters may not be calm...I did this tour one week after a tropic storm passed through the Yucatan peninsula and the water was choppy and the current was strong. The boat never turns off its engine since it will need to be mindful of the whale sharks, other snorkelers, other boats, etc...So, you will jump into the water off a slowly moving motorboat, swim with the guide up to the whale shark and swim around with the giant beast. Many times you will drift a ways away and the boat will need to come and pick you up - so you will need to tread water and wait.
If you don't have your sea legs, take an over the counter product for seasickness in the event the water conditions are not calm...the boat ride is 1.5 hrs from port to open water where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea and the small boat smashes through waves in order to get to the site where the sharks gather in number. There were about 30 when I was there, but there have been upward of a few hundred. Again, the storm could have kept other whalesharks away...
But be prepared for an experience of a lifetime! To swim alongside a fish 30 feet in length is an incredible experience...you can see cleaner fish swim beneath it and their giant mouths vacuum up plankton and krill. If you are lucky you may also see turtles, manta rays and pelagic fish.