Whale Sharks

Bahia de La Paz is frequented by all kinds of marine life, including the largest fish in the sea. The whale sharks or ballena tiburon in Spanish is one of the many species. Many whale sharks frequent the Sea of Cortez and they can be found just out of the city of La Paz, where the warm shallow bay allows them to feed easily on the plankton that accumulates there.

You have to take a tour to swim with them, as the main part of the bay is protected now. Our friends Marty and Linnie on Perspective asked if we would like to join them on a tour when their daughter was down and it was an opportunity we couldn't turn down.

The tour was easy to arrange, but it was in the last week of the season so the number of whale sharks still around might have been limited.

It was a nice sunny day when we dinghied in to meet Perspective in the Cortez Marina. Everyone was excited to head out.

We went to the tour office and signed our waivers and got our lifejackets. We then headed down to our panga and headed off to the beach just across from where we were anchored. We had to sign in with the government official to get on the waiting list to enter the protected area.

We headed out the channel past the magote and into the bay. The sun was shinning and there was little wind. We had to motor a fair way down the beach to where 2 other pangas were waiting to enter. Whilst it's not easy to spot the whale sharks in the water from any distance watching the other tour boats was a good guide. After lazing in the sun for about 20 minutes it was our turn to enter.

The speed is restricted to 6 knots so it took us a little while to get in there. Our guide split us into two teams and briefed us on the procedure for swimming with the sharks. We were in the second group to enter the water. Marty and his family were first up. Our driver got us close to the shark, it was about 15ft long and swimming along. The guide counted to three and they were in the water. It wasn't the best drop they were only able to keep up with the shark for a short period before it swam away from them, but they all came out of the water beaming with smiles.

We were up next, the drop was better. We were about 20ft in front of the shark and just off to the side. After surfacing briefly to get our bearing both Ashley and I were able to see the shark open mouth appear out of the murky water.

Ashley's take:

Our guide counted down and on 3 I plummeted into freezing water. It was cold and confusing. I took a breath and pressed my head into it. Out of no where this giant mouth of a Shark appeared. It was there, right in front me and it had me in its sights.

I scrambled out of its path. I had survived.

And then it majestically glided past me with its entourage of fish.

I was swimming hard to keep up with it and yet it's tail very slowly moved from side to side.

It was amazing. They glide so effortlessly along, opening their giant mouths as they do so. Every so often they will do a sharp turn, gliding around 180 degrees to swim back parallel to their previous pass.

These we found out were small adolescent whale sharks, 40ft ones can be seen in other parts of the sea. But they seemed big to us, and so close we could probably have touched them. They are regularly monitored by the universities and government to see if this sort of interaction has any detrimental effects, but from where we swam, they seemed perfectly content to let us enjoy their majestic life.