The 700-mile-long body of water of the Sea of Cortez encompasses the mainland Mexico and Baja California. This diverse sea is home to 900 varieties of fish and more than 2,000 species of marine invertebrates which makes it one of the richest bodies of water on the face of the earth.
Aside from the myriad of endemic marine creatures, the Sea of Cortez also attracts seasonal sea visitors like whale sharks. Acknowledged as the largest fish in the sea, the whale sharks can grow up to 40 feet or more and weigh as much as 20.6 tons. Just imagine a fish as big as a school bus! They are noted for their distinctive white dots throughout their bodies which are like fingerprints because they are unique to each animal.
Despite their colossal mouths, whale sharks are perfectly harmless to humans. In fact, their diet is restricted to plankton, krill, copepods, fish eggs, and algae. These filter feeders open their humongous mouths to let the water come in and their bodies filter out food. They then release the water including any debris back into the ocean.
Fondly called the “gentle giants of the sea,” these creatures spend most of their lives traveling which makes them very lucky because they have no problems fulfilling their wanderlust. They are drawn to waters like the Sea of Cortez where they can have an all-you-can-eat buffet and gorge before continuing their voyage. These tropical waters serve not just a feeding ground but also as a nursery for their young.
If you want an opportunity to come up close and personal with these giant but docile creatures, then snorkeling with whale sharks at La Paz, the gateway to the Sea of Cortez might just be what you need. The best time to embark on this kind of underwater adventure is from October to March.
“Swimming with the gentle giants was a breathtaking experience I will never forget. I am in awe of these magnificent creatures that cruise along our oceans,” Melissa, a tourist shared her thrilling experience with the whale sharks in Cabo San Lucas.
Whale shark encounter tips
Whale Sharks are considered endangered species and they deserve nothing short but respect and care. So before taking a plunge to snorkel with the planet’s biggest fish, here are some tips to remember for a fun, safe and worry-free adventure.
Begin by paying attention to the instructions of your tour guide and follow them accordingly. These rules are meant to protect both wildlife and tourists so take them very seriously.
One of the important things to remember is not to wear sunscreen, tanning lotion, deodorant, scents, and oils on the day of snorkeling because these chemicals can be harmful to the gentle giants of the sea. Even biodegradable or organic sunscreens are discouraged because they can be damaging to the creature’s skin.
When you reach the location, enter the water slowly and quietly as possible to minimize splashing since too much noise and commotion can spook the docile beasts. Besides, the last thing you want to happen is to drive the majestic creatures away by your lack of finesse.
Keep in mind that you are a mere visitor in someone else’s territory so respect these amazing creatures when you venture into their turf. Snorkeling with the whale sharks gives you a chance to see them up close but it doesn’t mean that you can touch them whenever you please. You’re not in a petting zoo so you can only look but do not touch! Direct interaction can push the animal to leave the area and spoil your encounter. The best thing to do is observe them quietly from a safe distance of at least three meters away from the head and four meters from the tail. This way you can be a quiet spectator and allow them to have ample space to do their natural business. Did you know that humans could transmit diseases to the whale sharks that could cause an infection? This is another reason why snorkelers are strongly advised to stay at a good distance to protect them from contaminating diseases.
As a guest, it’s only fitting that you honor the home of these majestic animals by keeping the waters clean and not removing anything from the ocean. If someone visits your house, you wouldn’t like it if they leave garbage behind and take your things. Think of this scenario when you venture into the ocean as a gentle reminder to yourself.
The manner of approaching the biggest fish in the ocean is very important too. The proper way of doing this is by moving towards it from the side or swimming alongside near its pectoral fins. Do not panic if you see it swimming towards your group; simply divide into two sections to give it space to swim in between.
It’s alright to take photos but avoid flash photography to prevent frightening or disorienting the docile giant. Fish generally have no eyelids so the sudden flash can increase the glare and temporarily blind them. You can avoid giving whale sharks undue stress by not using your flash, regardless if someone is watching or not.
Snorkeling with these amazing animals will give you a new appreciation for whale sharks and hopefully inspire you to contribute to their conservation.