And We Still Haven’t Seen a Whale Shark

That’s right. Five hours on a small boat in big water and we still haven’t seen a whale shark.

Ecotourism is huge here on Isla Mujeres. On the north end, the streets are lined with outfitters that will take you snorkeling or scuba diving, arrange for you to pet dolphins and swim with the sharks, or even see the underwater sculpture museum. As life long Leave No Trace hikers and campers, we tend to avoid the adventures where direct human interaction with wildlife is involved.

A particularly popular trip here is to go snorkeling with the whale sharks. Now, whale sharks are not like the great whites, hammerheads, tiger sharks, or other chomp chomp chomp scary sharks that you see in the movies attacking people on the beach. Like baleen whales, they’re filter feeders and are generally non-agressive. A perfectly safe and majestic experience for ecotourists. Our neighbors (who are seasoned divers and had spent years living on their boat) regaled us with amazing stories of their whale shark swim, effectively convincing us that being surrounded by 40 whale sharks was a once-in-a-lifetime, not-to-miss opportunity.

back on land

They were half right about that. It was indeed a unique experience for us, but we would have gladly traded it for 6-pack of warm, flat Mexican beer if we had known that we’d be spending 5 hours retching off the side of the boat. And yes, we did take Dramamine in advance–and again on the boat.

If I hadn’t been curled in a ball on the floor of the boat with my eyes closed, I probably would have been sad that Mike and I didn’t even get to put on our wetsuits and flippers and look all nautical and diver-y. If Mike had been able to look away from the horizon long enough, he might have been able to jump in the water and swim with the ONE whale shark our guides were able to locate.

It was a rough day all around.

The upside is that we met some really great people. L & K from Georgia were endlessly caring and kept me covered with a towel and with ice on my head. Though I had my eyes closed, it sounded to me like they were taking good care of Mike too. And later in the evening, after we got home, showered, and napped a bit, we had dinner with T & Y from the UK. So it wasn’t a complete loss, but we still haven’t laid eyes on a whale shark.

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