In Search of Whale Sharks: Family Travel Cancun

DCIM100GOPROOur last visit to Cancun was built around whale sharks. The Meso American Reef that runs from just north of Cancun to Honduras is one of the few places in the world that you can see huge schools of these gentle giants. We arrived in Cancun eager to come fin to face with these amazing creatures. And, with tales of travelers returning the day before seeing seventeen sharks, our minds swam with visions of the adventure that lay before us. Alas, nature does not always cooperate and the sharks did not realize we had an appointment. The next day we had plans to visit the amazing Mayan pyramids of Ek Balam and rappel into a cenote…an incredible adventure that we will always remember. We returned to the resort to hear tales of 28 whale sharks from the snorkel trip that day! Everyone keen to share their adventure with us, showed pictures on iPhones and laptops. Unfortunately, we had no more time to book another trip. So, we left promising the sharks we would return and adding another item to our bucket list.

This week we made the trip back. We scheduled our snorkel trip and left the following day open, just in case the odds would not be in our favor again. We bumped along for about an hour before happening upon a turtle resting on the surface who instantly dove for depths upon hearing our boat. We rumbled on…the radio tweeted…murmured Spanish from captain to captain. The boat sped up and then before us a rustle of water where fins surfaced and dove, rolled and bumped. The guide hurried us into the water, not because the sharks would leave, but because he wanted us to experience it before too many other boats arrived…when the sharks outnumbered us. And outnumber us they did. Our captain counted about 50 whale sharks in the school.

DCIM100GOPROWe were surrounded by the gentle giants in every direction you looked…some measuring as big as a school bus. They are the largest fish in the world! Being filter feeders, they grazed the surface with their mouths wide open (no scary teeth sticking out – although they do have thousands of tiny ones they are not very noticeable and not used for eating) feasting on plankton. They moved with such grace and confidence. Watching them I felt a bit clumsy in my snorkel and fins. The guide helped us swim along next to them.┬áThe propulsion of water from their gills and the movement of their fins actually created a sort of pocket that assisted you in moving along with them. Their gold ball size eyes peered back at you as if they were as curious about you as you were about them. Watching the kids kick up next to the shark and follow along just inches above the sharks…sheer joy!

Mixed in the with the sharks, manta rays flipped and swirled, occasionally leaping from the water in what scientists believe to be a mating behavior. We spotted at least a dozen, their finger-like feeder fins looking like giant arms reaching out for a hug.

The experience of so many whale sharks right at the surface (they can dive as deep as 3,000 ft) and the socializing with manta rays is not something any of us are likely to forget. It makes you ponder what other creatures live in the depths of the ocean…and what we can discover from them.

Plan Your Trip:

We booked our trip through Apple Vacations and stayed at Dreams Cancun. The snorkel trip left right from the dock at the hotel, which made the morning (we had to be there at 7:45a) much easier. The best time to see the whale sharks is between mid-May to mid-September. Be sure to leave an extra day just in case the sharks don’t show. Most snorkel companies offer the return trip out for free if you do not see them on your first day.

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