What an incredible adventure it is, to snorkel with Whale Sharks in La Paz! And the best thing about it? You can bring your entire family along for the thrill of snorkeling with the largest fish in the ocean! Swimming with whale sharks makes for a lifelong family memory.
Yes, the Whale Shark is the largest fish, and the largest shark, in the entire ocean. It is not a scary shark, though, because whale sharks are filter feeders. That means that they are sort of like vacuum cleaners, they open their mouths and suck in the small fish, plankton, fish eggs, and krill, then filter the water out of their gills and keep the food. These charismatic megafauna (meaning charismatic large animal) are no threat whatsoever to humans. Swimming with whale sharks is good for their conservation as well, as long as responsible operations are doing their job. Red Travel Mexico is the operator in the Baja I recommend. I have found them to be extremely responsible, both to their clients, and to the wildlife in the Baja.
Travels with Tam and Red Travel Mexico have teamed up twice to introduce people to the wonders of the Mexican Baja. In 2017 our expedition in December experienced strong northern winds which shut down the port in La Paz, and we were unable to swim with whale sharks in the bay. This year we went in March, the end of the whale shark season, and experienced better luck with the wind. We had a lovely sunny day, with low winds, and a wonderful experience snorkeling with the whale sharks of La Paz! Our boat headed out to La Paz Bay with nine excited people!
Our guide, Pedro, first informed us of the Code of Conduct of Swimming with Whale Sharks in La Paz. I find La Paz to be careful with their whale sharks, and strict about keeping to the code. The code is as follows:
- Only 14 boats allowed in the Whale Shark Zone at a time, and they are permitted to be there for 2 hours at a time.
- We were split into two groups, and each group went separately.
- Stay 3 meters from the Whale Sharks head if possible, and 4 meters from its tail. That tail is big! You do not want to be slapped with it.
- Do not touch, ride, or chase a Whale Shark.
- Do not interfere with its feeding and natural behaviors.
- Don’t use flash photography when swimming with Whale Sharks. They are near enough to the surface to get plenty of natural light, and the flash can distract them.
- One boat at a time with the Whale Sharks.
- It is a privilege to swim with Whale Sharks. For you, not them.
Swimming with whale sharks may help conserve them, as they are on the Endangered List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their numbers are down drastically, particularly in areas near China and the Far East. Dr. Simon Pierce, co founder of Marine Megafauna Foundation, who led IUCN’s assessement says, “While international whale shark trade is regulated through the species’ listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), more needs to be done domestically to protect whale sharks at a national level.” (NatGeo) Showing nations that these animals are worth much more alive than dead, in tourist dollars, is a way of discouraging the poaching of these gentle giants. La Paz does a terrific job of protecting their shark population, which is seasonal. Whale Shark Season in La Paz is October to the end of March. There are a few resident whale sharks, but most migrate to where the food is.
Our group of nine from Red Travel Mexico went out full of high spirits, with most people on the boat never having seen a whale shark let alone snorkel with one! I’ve been with them several times, but each time is just as exciting as the first time! La Paz has a population of mostly juveniles, up to 15 feet, or 5 meters. There were however, some larger ones out there!
Our side of the boat was to go first, and I had my GoPro ready, and my fellow boat mates were so excited! When the captain said “go”, I went! How can I describe the absolute wonder of being next to the world’s largest fish? I brought my new free dive fins (which are very long) so I found it quite easy to keep up with the whale shark. They may look slow, but believe me, they are booking it! Those with regular fins had to work super hard to keep with the whale sharks in La Paz, but I was thrilled to find that my new fins were allowing me to keep up without getting out of breath. I took video after video of these whale sharks in La Paz, and was so pleased to find both a vertical feeder (where the shark feeds in a vertical position so doesn’t move much) and a larger shark, over 20 feet for sure, maybe more.
Every single one of us came up on the boat saying, that was awesome, that was amazing, that was thrilling, etc. Even the most jaded diver is thrilled to see a Whale Shark. It is an amazing reward, seeing the largest fish in the ocean! After two hours, we had to leave, but I would have stayed all day long. I just love watching them swim, I love their beautiful markings, and I always make sure I take Identification Photos to upload. Each whale shark has an individual marking right behind their gills. Every encounter you report to Whale Sharks Wildbook is logged and a match is searched for. If there is a match, then they will send you the data about the shark and you can see where it has been seen before! I always love getting my updates about my sharks and where they’ve been seen. It is always so fascinating to me.
So, what do you think? Is it time you went to snorkel with whale sharks in La Paz? Make beautiful memories, and contribute to the conservation of these animals by snorkeling with whale sharks! What do you say??? Is it time for you and yours to snorkel with whale sharks in La Paz?
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