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Swimming with whale sharks

Snorkeling with whale sharks in the Bay of La Paz, Mexico
Snorkeling with whale sharks in the Bay of La Paz, Mexico
Cortez Club photo

Here’s something to add to your bucket list. Take a dip with a whale shark, the largest fish on the planet.

Whale sharks are huge, measuring up to 45 feet in length. The good news for swimmers is they only eat plankton and small fish. During the winter, these gentle giants congregate in warm waters around the world. If you live on the west coast, one of the closest places to see them is in La Paz, Mexico on the Sea of Cortez.

Even if you’ve been swimming with dolphins, manatees, manta rays or belugas, there’s nothing like snorkeling with a whale shark. First, none of the critters I’ve mentioned are anywhere near as massive. And while belugas and manatees are curious enough to approach you, whale sharks (in my experience) tend to go about their business without giving you a second look. Another difference is, compared to humans whale sharks are swift swimmers, clocking up to three miles per hour. You need to be a fairly strong swimmer to keep up.

“There are 18 known whale sharks in the area right now.” James Curtiss, owner of La Paz’s Cortez Club water sports center, sounded encouraging when our group of a dozen hopeful swimmers set off. Our motorboat driver was more realistic. “It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.”

Fortunately, ours wasn’t the only boat looking for whale sharks in the Bay of La Paz that early February morning. With the help of other skippers, our group saw three. We were able to swim with one for a short time before it swished its tail and disappeared into the deep, dark waters.

Yes, if you’re wondering about February’s water temperatures, we did need full wetsuits. The Cortez Club provided them along with snorkel gear. For more information on tours, check out www.cortezclub.com.