Originally published on July 8, 2021 in Free to Move About

My “bucket list” is ever expanding and changing. One thing, however, has stayed consistent. Many of the items on the list have involved underwater hopes and dreams, specifically seeing a variety of majestic sea creatures in the wild.

I have been lucky enough to swim with one manta ray and paddleboard with another, both right here in Francis Bay. I have seen whales on multiple occasions in local waters, as well as offshore. My most magical moment to date is still the time that I spent about 20 minutes swimming with a dolphin in a mooring field in the Exumas.

I now have another major item that I can check off of my list thanks to our trip to Mexico: swimming with whale sharks!

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Our hotel on Tulum Beach was directly across the street from the local dive shop. Patrick had already planned to spend a couple of mornings scuba diving, but he also discussed the possibility of setting up an excursion to swim with whale sharks since we were coming up on the beginning of their season in the Yucatan.

We decided to wait until we arrived to see if there’d been regular sightings before we committed to anything. As it turned out, they had already been seeing them quite consistently, and in decent numbers, so Patrick booked the trip for us without hesitation.

It was indeed an excursion. The dive shop set up private transportation back to Cancun very early in the morning (allowing us to nap on the way). From there we hopped on a boat which picked up each set of passengers from their individual locations, including tying up to another vessel for a pass-off at sea. After all 10 passengers were aboard, we proceeded to head well over an hour into open water where they knew that the whale sharks had been feeding. (For those who don’t know, they typically feed on fish eggs and plankton.)

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We chatted with fellow passengers and enjoyed the time on the water. Then we suddenly spotted the other boats and knew we were close. It made me think of humpback season in the VI. When you see a bunch of boats stopped and drifting in a cluster, you can be pretty sure there are whales close by.

From there things got a little hectic. They gave us instructions about how we would exit the boat one pair at a time with the guide and then return promptly to allow each subsequent pair their opportunity to swim. The next thing we knew it was our turn and we were in the water. The guide pulled me in the direction of the whale shark passing beneath us and shouted, “Swim, swim, swim!” He wasn’t kidding, you have to move quickly to keep up! The whale sharks themselves appear to be barely making an effort, but one gentle sway of their massive tails propels them much faster than you would anticipate.

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Despite the hurried nature of it all, for just a moment it felt as if time stopped. I remember feeling like all of a sudden things were moving in slow motion while I gazed up and down the body of this enormous, breathtaking creature thinking simply, “Wooooaaaaahhhh!”

And then it was time to get back on the boat. During our second swim I swallowed a bit of water, which brought on a bout of seasickness. So Patrick went for a third swim solo while I let my stomach settle back down. I have to say, it was worth every second of nausea to experience that one moment of awe and wonder when time stood still.

(Word of advice if you ever have this opportunity yourself: Pay for the videos or capture it yourself. Because the experience happens so quickly, I have been truly grateful to have the videos to revisit. They take me back to the moment as if it’s happening in real time and I get to “be there” all over again.)

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Background image + Video 1 & 2 courtesy of Patrick Wilson
Video 3 & 4 by Mexidivers Tulum

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