Tiburon Ballena (or, whale sharking with wetpixel)

by brian lam

I wrote this post last year, but the trip is happening again and by some miracle, there are seats open. I might go back. For $2600, including everything but airfare, you should consider going. It’s a non scuba trip, so you’ll be snorkeling, making it ideal for people with partners who don’t dive. I don’t get paid to promote this trip, I just believe these Wetpixel are an amazing way to go on an adventure and learn water photography, so I try to promote them best I can. Here’s how to learn more.

I tagged along on underwater photography site Wetpixel’s whale shark trip to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. You’d expect everyone on the trip to have very big cameras, and some, like Alex Mustard, an editor at Wetpixel, did. (Alex, an englishman who lived in Sardinia with his girlfriend,¬†Eleonora, was an incredible host and guide because he is also a marine biologist.) But others were just there to spend time–hours and hours for days on end–swimming with the sharks above an endless depth. I had only a gopro and an iPhone in a 30-meter hard case, but given the clear skies, clear waters, abundant sharks, and plenty of time in the water, I was able to grab a few lucky shots.

The Captain David “Lato” Gallo, told us how we had to sneak up behind the whale sharks when they were botella, bobbing vertically to eat the fish eggs that we could see floating on the surface. The eggs would get into our hair and dive suits, full body too thin to provide any insulation but designed to keep the sun from burning us to a crisp during our 5-6 hours in the water every day. On the way back, the boat crew would fix us some ceviche. We’d be back by 2 or 3pm for a nap or to explore the island or take a dip in the pool of our hotel, Playa Media Luna.

Over the course of a week, I learned how much better my company was–we would head out so very early in the day to catch the whale sharks at their most active feeding times, and to beat the armada of day boats that would bring the splashing, chasing, awkward tourists in their orange life vests that would get on my nerves as often as they seemed to get on the nerves of the sharks. Everyone on the Wetpixel trip was there to observe the creatures, and record them for eternity in photography.

Many city friends I showed these pictures to said I was lucky to go, and that it was a dream of theirs to swim with whale sharks. I agree, I am lucky and it was a dream of mine, too. But, I don’t know why it has to be just a dream when trips like this one are so easy and so satisfying to sign up for.

Without the need for fancy cameras, or expensive dive equipment beyond a mask and snorkel, dive skin and fins, anyone can swim with the whale sharks.

(Photo above by Neil Rosewarn)

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