adventure travlin’

YOLO!

Get Up, Stand Up (Paddle)!

Our first foray into stand up paddling was a number of years ago. Dawn and Robin are my adventure girlfriends, and our friend Nikki came into town for her annual week at the beach. We thought stand up paddling could be an adventure, and so we gave it a shot. Our guide/instructor was patient and fun, and passed along her enthusiasm for the sport to us. Read more…

we survived!The Time I Became a Bobblehead

A few weeks ago, I was in Park City, Utah for a few days. What a beautiful place to be, even for this warm-weather-lovin’ girl! When we were out there, I heard murmurs that there may be the opportunity to go for a bobsled ride at Utah Olympic Park. Read more…

 

 

 

Whale Shark (Photo by Jon Hanson)

Swimming With the Sharks…Um, Fishes

First published on Women’s Adventure Magazine blog, June 2011

After nearly an hour of cutting across the Caribbean Sea, we made our first sightings of the whale sharks about seven miles off the coast of Isla Mujeres (off of Cancun)—dorsal fins and tails silently cutting through the surface. First, there was one. Then another. And another. Soon, I came to realize our small boat was essentially surrounded by these 40-foot gentle giants. A quick, unofficial count came to about 40, circling around the area, feeding.

From mid-May through mid-September, more than 1,400 whale sharks make their way through the Caribbean waters off the coast of Cancun. During these warm summer months, there’s a veritable shmorgishborg of the sharks’ diet—plankton, krill and very small fish.

The outfitters who guide whale shark tours out of Isla Mujeres are working diligently to protect the fish, and are leading the industry of whale shark tour outfitters around the world. At the annual Whale Shark Festival, held each July, tour operators come together with researchers and scientists to discuss the whale sharks, and how best to protect the species. Last summer, the director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., commended the Isla Mujeres tour operator community for their conservation efforts.

Before we jumped in, our guide, David with Ceviche Tours, discussed the protocol for swimming with the whale sharks. Number one, do not touch the sharks, especially their tails. Actually, that’s pretty much it. We jumped in two at a time with David, donned our masks, snorkels, fins and lifejackets, and swam along side these massive fish.

The grace and ease with which they move through the water is breathtaking, which can be precarious when snorkeling. Gently gliding along, the whale sharks open their mouths—up to four feet wide—and suck in the abundance of krill and plankton that sustain them. No carnivores here!

As the whale sharks effortlessly swim by, their beauty is unequivocal. The white spots that dot their bodies are seemingly blotted on with a paintbrush, with a pattern unique to each animal. The sharks’ five gills flow like ribbons in an Olympic ribbon dancing competition as the sharks expel the water taken in during feeding.

After about two hours with the whale sharks, we all climbed back aboard our boat and made our way back to land, leaving the gentle giants to enjoy the rest of the day, at peace with their dinner.

 

Swimming with Whale Sharks (with video)

First published on WestJet Airlines’ blog, up! September 2010

After nearly an hour of cutting across the Caribbean Sea in a 10-passenger boat, we made our first sightings of the whale sharks about seven miles off the coast of Isla Mujeres.

Their dorsal fins and tails silently cutting through the surface. First, there was one. Then another. And another. Soon, I came to realize our small boat was essentially surrounded by these 40 foot gentle giants. A quick, unofficial count came to about 30 or so, circling around the area, feeding.

Migratory Path Through the Caribbean

From mid-May through mid-September, more than 1,400 whale sharks make their way through the Caribbean waters off the coast of Cancun.

During these warm summer months, there’s a veritable shmorgishborg of the sharks’ diet—plankton, krill and very small fish. Huge filter-feeders, the sharks draw in gallons of water filled with this food supply, filtering out the goodies using gill-rakers (fine and mesh-like, perhaps like cheesecloth) and expel the excess water through their gills.

Conservation Efforts by Tour Operators

The outfitters who guide whale shark tours out of Isla Mujeres are working diligently to protect the fish, and are leading the industry of whale shark tour outfitters around the world.

At the Third Annual Whale Shark Festival, held earlier this summer, Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., commended the Isla Mujeres tour operator community for their conservation efforts.

The Rules Before Swimming

Before we jumped in, our guide, David with Ceviche Tours, discussed the protocol for swimming with the whale sharks.

  • Rule 1: Do not touch the sharks—especially their tails.

Actually, that’s pretty much it. Though very gentle creatures, whale sharks are indeed wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened.

David told the group about a woman who grabbed onto a shark’s tail and—being caught by surprise—thrust her 30 or so yards away. Keep in mind, that a whale shark is 40 feet of pure muscle!

Swimming With the Whale Sharks

At last, it was time to swim with the sharks. Who says that?! Two at a time, we donned our masks, snorkels, fins and lifejackets, and swam with David along side these incredibly massive fish.

When I first hit the water, I was discombobulated. My mask slipped, water went down my snorkel, and all of a sudden I had the reality of the fact that we were seven miles off shore hit me square in the face. After a minute, I settled down and got it together. This was going to be an experience of a lifetime, after all.

Enjoy the Experience

And what an incredibly surreal experience it was. When I calmed myself, the only sounds I heard were the whooshing of the water around me; my hypnotic breathing through the snorkel; and suppressed giggles as the sharks grew near.

The grace and ease with which the whale sharks move through the water is breathtaking, which can be precarious when snorkeling. Gently gliding along, they open their mouths—up to four feet wide—and all of a sudden it’s dinner time.

Several times, I found myself in the direct path of the sharks and, at the very last second, they’d effortlessly turn themselves to avoid collision. They seemed to have been having fun with it!

As the whale sharks effortlessly swam by—and I kicked wildly to keep up—their beauty was unequivocal. The white spots that dot their bodies were seemingly blotted on with a paintbrush, with a pattern unique to each animal. Their gills flowed like ribbons in an Olympic ribbon dancing competition as they expelled water.

At last, it was time to leave the whale sharks in peace. We climbed back aboard our boat and made our way back to land, leaving the gentle giants to enjoy the rest of the day.

Prices for swimming with whale sharks with Ceviche Tours start at $125/person.