We swam with whale sharks! The largest fish on the planet is a member of the shark family but not even remotely interested in eating anything other than plankton. Juvenile whale sharks are prevalent in La Paz bay, and while the largest whale sharks can be 60 feet, juveniles are between 15 and 30 feet. Their head is big and broad and their mouth, open to capture plankton, is 3 to 5 feet wide. They have two small eyes in the front of the head and large white polka dots on their body.
These beauties are a 7 minute boat ride from our condo, just across Bahia La Paz.
Swimming alongside a whale shark was just too good to miss. Despite that fact I don’t like to get wet, and oh yeah…I cannot swim, Steve and I donned wet suits and masks and jumped into the sea as soon as the boat pulled up to the huge form in the water. I freaked out as soon as I got wet, and our guide Miguel (Master’s Degree in Marine Life Biology), grabbed my hand and we moved alongside it. We swam within an arm’s reach of the whale shark’s head, then its full body. Steve found himself directly in front of the mouth as the whaleshark swam towards him, head on. He paddled frantically to move aside in an effort to keep a respectful distance (as we were instructed).
Fact: Swimming with whale sharks is highly regulated in Baja to protect the sharks. No more than 5 swimmers at a time are allowed to be in the water. No touching! Whale sharks find humans malodorous – sunscreen, lotion, irritate their eyes and burn their skin so they will dive to get away from us.
Photo Credit – We were too busy swimming to take photos, but these are from the website of our group, Baja Adventure Company, BACo.
Another Whale Tale: Gray Whales (40 tons/50 feet of love)
In March, when we were making our way to La Paz, we stopped in Guerrero Negro after an 11 hour drive. Early the next morning, we jumped in a panga (small fishing boat) and headed to Laguna Ojo de Liebrem, a migration destination for gray whales who come each winter to breed and give birth. It is one of three such lagoons in Baja.
A dream come true when soon we were surrounded by gray whales (bigger than the boat) who came close and allowed us to pet them. We were on the water with the whales for 3 hours, but I could have stayed all day.
We watched as a whale hung out with the people on a neighboring boat. She rolled over and eyed us, then approached my side of the boat, her head and eyes inches away from mine. I scratched her head and patted her face.
And we were all leaning in…hands out, patting, scratching, giving lots of love! She repeatedly bumped the bottom of the boat, scratching her back and swimming from one side to another to eyeball the excited humans.
There were mommas and babies, and whales on either side…breaching, diving, saying hello. All too soon it was over.