Swimming with whale sharks is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — one of those stories you can tell for decades, and an experience that makes a simple trip to Cancun an unbelievable memory. Each summer, hundreds of whale sharks gather in the open ocean off of Cancun to feed on the microscopic plankton that thrive in Mexico’s warm waters (translation: whale sharks have no interest in eating YOU).
Whale sharks are ginormous, a scientific term that puts them upwards of 20 feet long, but they are extremely agile. They have no interest in swimming into you. Dreams Cancun Resort & Spa is the best starting point for your whale shark adventure. Solo Buceo is the dive operation on property, and our guide, Rodrigo, has been diving the waters off of Cancun with his father since he was a kid. Rodrigo knows his stuff, and he doesn’t mind if a friend is a little bit seasick on your journey to find the sharks.
We went in late June, and the waters were rough. Rodrigo says that by July and August, the ocean is like glass — no chance of being seasick then! (Although your mileage may vary.) Solo Buceo’s boats leave the dock at Dreams Cancun at 7 a.m. — an hour before the other whale shark operations leave. The upside is that you have time alone with the sharks before the other companies catch up with you. The downside is that, if you’re first, you have to find the sharks. We headed just north of Isla Mujeres into the deep blue.
We found the whale sharks about an hour and a half later — 16 miles out in the open ocean. We jumped in the ocean in pairs, and Rodrigo and his team guide you to the best viewing spots. With a hundred giant whale sharks in the water, we really didn’t need help spotting the sharks. It was like whale shark soup. The whale sharks are majestic, giant and powerful swimmers. Their mouths are enormous, and if you ever want to be reminded of your size in the universe, swimming with whale sharks is a good place to start. My scuba friends, Pat and Sherry Hammer, came along on our whale shark adventure. Pat is a PADI Platinum Course Director (he teaches the scuba teachers), and Sherry is also an amazing scuba instructor and underwater hand holder — I can attest to that last qualification personally.
They own SCUBA Emporium and are considered top influencers in the dive community. All this backstory to say that my goal was to watch their reaction to snorkeling with the whale sharks to gauge the level of coolness of the excursion. Conclusion: Amazingly Cool When we returned to Dreams Cancun, Pat went over a few facts about whale sharks, and how to identify them.
Each whale shark has unique polka dot-like markings. A nonprofit organization, Project AWARE, is compiling a database on each shark with the hope that they can learn more about individual whale shark migration. We uploaded our photos to the Project AWARE site, and I became a proud graduate of the PADI Whale Shark Awareness Distinctive Specialty Course.
I have a new PADI card to add to my collection, and a new understanding and appreciation of these gentle giants. If you’ll be in the Cancun/Riviera Maya area between May and Sept, Amstar DMC can hook you up on a whale shark excursion.
Ask the Apple rep in the lobby or book before you leave. (Fair warning: Depending on ocean conditions, the ride to the sharks might be choppy. Consider confirming conditions with the snorkeling operations prior to departing, if you (or your friends *wink*) have a tendency to get seasick. Also, we did a back roll into the water from the boat. This excursion required a fair level of physical activity and agility.)