Waiting at the dock, the excitement is palpable. Twenty-five miles off the coast of this island, giants are in the water. We are on Isla Mujeres, “the Island of Women”, only an hour away from Cancun International Airport. The giants are whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet, and we are going to swim with them today.
Whale sharks, or dominos as the locals call them because of their spots, are one of only three shark species that feed on plankton. In the deep blue waters near Isla Mujeres, there is an all-you-can-eat buffet of plankton during the summer months. The featured item on today’s menu is fish eggs – billions of them.
As we ride out to the swimming grounds, I talk to our guide, Mario, about the rise in whale shark tourism from Isla Mujeres over the last few years and ask whether or not he thinks the increase is sustainable. He does; the Mexican government created the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve earlier this year to protect their habitat. When asked if he likes his summer job, he flashes a grin, and better words couldn’t be spoken.
Moments later we arrive to the swimming area, and Lynda and I grab our snorkeling gear. We’ve volunteered to be the first pair in the water. As we jump in, it feels as if we’ve just entered an oversized swimming pool. Only this pool could chew you up and spit you out, and those enormous swimmers approaching us aren’t people.
I put my face mask in the water and see Mario’s hand pointing to his right. Coming straight at me is a whale shark. She swims by, mouth wide open. I hear someone giggling like a schoolgirl in the water – a few seconds pass before I realize it’s me.
Interested in swimming with whale sharks and contributing to their conservation? Join Reefs to Rockies’ scheduled group departure to Isla Mujeres in August 2010 or contact one of our travel consultants to customize an itinerary and departure dates. For more details, visit www.ReefsToRockies.com or download the itinerary at http://www.reefstorockies.com/mexico.html.