Here Come The Whale Sharks!

You can even dive in and swim with the big guys
BY: CAPTAIN NEMO

Although it’s one of the most popular activities in Cabo, swimming with the whale sharks is still a relatively new activity here in Los Cabos. It’s exploded in popularity within the past five years, to the point that whale shark tours are now one of the main reasons people visit La Paz. The area is unique in that the whale sharks are only about 15 or so minutes off the bay; tourists don’t have to trek to a remote location to see them.

whaleshark.PNGBut while the tourism is great for Los Cabos, it’s not so great for the animals. According to Semanart (Mexico’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources), 56% of the whale sharks in the bay have some kind of injury from boats. In an effort to give the sharks a chance to rest, Semanart, shortened the whale shark season from 11 months (July to May) to seven months (October to May) in order to give the whales some private time when they’re not being harassed by eager tourists.

Semanart also decided to postpone the start of whale shark season, originally scheduled to open October 1, because, according to its researchers, only six whale sharks have been spotted in the bay.

But whale shark season has officially started now, and we highly recommend you book a tour to go swimming with them. It’s an amazing experience to be able to get so close to these gentle giants (they’re filter feedings, so they hunt for plankton not other animals. They don’t even have teeth).

Just about every big tour company in Cabo offers a whale shark expedition; Cabo Adventures, Cabo Expeditions, Island Cat. Prices range from $150 to $250 USD per person, and includes transportation from Cabo up to La Paz, food, drinks (some tours include booze, others don’t), and snorkeling equipment. If you go on a big comfy boat like Island Cat, they have smaller boats that you get into to go out to meet and greet the big guys. And be sure to check out the munchies and booze on offer from each company. This is a full day trip. You could get hungry and thirsty.

If you need to pinch pennies, there’s always the option of driving up to La Paz yourself and hiring one of the local boat owners whose panga sits on the beach along the malecon. Guaranteed, this is the cheapest way to do it, maybe $20 or $30 per person, but you get what you pay for. Instead of cruising along on a big boat with food and drinks and a bathroom, you’ll be on a tiny boat with hard seats and no amenities (unless you brought a cooler full of food and beer with you).

Whichever tour you choose, it’s important that you remember to be patient when it comes to finding the whale sharks. Remember, this is nature and it’s unpredictable. That means that some days your guide will hardly have to search before finding a shark for you to swim with, and other days you’ll search and search and be lucky to spot a few whale sharks. And if there are five other boats in the water that got to the shark before your boat did, you’ll have to wait until all of their passengers have jumped in and swam with the sharks before you get your turn (there’s a law that no more than six people, plus a guide, should be in the water with the whale sharks at once, to avoid stressing them out).

It’s also very important that you follow the rules when you’re in the water with the animals. First and foremost, don’t touch them! You could injure them, or cause an infection from the sunblock on your skin. You must swim along their sides and not in front of them, and keep a minimum distance of 16 feet from the animal’s head. It’s also forbidden to take pictures with flash and to use propulsion engines to swim near the whale sharks.

Once you’re in the water, be prepared to swim fast. The sharks might be big, but they’re not slow. And you’ll want to keep up with them, because being able to swim so close to such a magnificent animal is an amazing experience, well worth following all the rules and paying the freight. And anyhow, if you’re booking on a big boat, that experience itself is half or more of the adventure and the fun.