Nov 21

Gentle Giants – The Whale Shark

By Jessica Shilling

After spending a year as a PADI dive instructor in Playa del Carmen Jessica Shilling went on to get a degree in Graphic Design in Mexico City. She currently resides in Mexico, travels and dives when possible, and is author/illustrator of the children's book series, "Fins and Tales", an underwater themed series aimed at educating children about the importance and beauty of our oceans.

Swimming with whales sharks may be one of the best experiences I have ever had. Waiting at the edge of the boat with my snorkel gear on ready to jump, the world suddenly stops, and the only thing I focus on is the mesmerizing opening and closing of the whale shark's enormous colossal mouth as it passes under the boat.

Whaleshark SDL Illustration from children’s picture book Fins and Tales

Once you dive in the whale shark doesn't even notice his fan club of splashy annoying snorkelers swimming along side it as it propels itself forward slowly moving its tail back and forth. In “shark” it is moving slow but for us humans swimming along side the shark is a complete work out having to swim as fast as possible just to keep up!

Whaleshark SDL - 3

Another awesome plus to swimming with whale sharks is the high possibility of seeing more large creatures along side it or nearby. On my last swim with whale sharks I had the pleasure of also swimming with giant Manta rays that were also feeding on plankton in the same location as the sharks. Manta rays are so majestic and amazing to watch. They also seem to enjoy their fans watching them, sometimes they turn and spin around snorkelers as if they were trying to give them a show.

It my seem scary to dive in with such large creatures but this polka-dotted, deep diving shark is a gentle giant and will not harm you. The only thing to keep in mind while swimming with them is to never touch them and to keep a safe distance so that you don't get in the way of its tail. It is also vital to not use sunscreen filled with chemicals. Any whale shark guide can show you what kinds of sunscreen to use which are always natural and less harmful to the planet and the animals.

Whale Sharks are the Biggest Fish in the Sea!

They weigh many tons and can grow to more than 45 feet in length. They are named not only for their massive size but also their diet of plankton and small fish which they filter feed by swimming with its gaping mouth wide open allowing it to capture tiny marine life from the vast amount of water it swallows. This filtering mechanism is theorized to be a technique called cross-flow filtration.

Whaleshark SDL - 2

The whale shark's flattened head sports a blunt snout above its mouth with short barbels protruding from its nostrils. They have a beautiful coloration pattern, with a bluish-gray to brown back, and a white underside. Its two dorsal fins are set rearward on its body, which ends in a large tail.

Preferring warm waters, whale sharks populate all tropical seas. There are many locations were you can swim with these amazing creatures.

Get ready, set… JUMP IN!

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