S/V Hello World's Travel Log

Our day with giant marine life - whale sharks and whales

One of the more unique things to do in the Sea of Cortez is to go swimming with whale sharks. Unique and not dangerous at all. Really. Despite their name and the fact that they're a part of the shark family, they are docile animals and don't eat humans. So we're told.

They spend a few months in the waters just outside of La Paz and the most responsible way to see them is via registered panga. We got a few fabulous recommendations to go with Deni, a researcher , aboard her panga "El Zorro". She's been studying the whale sharks in the Sea for 8 years and gave us a great rundown on our way out to their feeding ground (where they feed on plankton, not people). For $50US a head, we spent 3 hours with them and the money goes towards their research and local education, a great cause. S/v Sapphire was along for this exciting adventure as well.

As we boarded El Zorro, Deni and Paul (the panga driver), told us about a fin whale that had been stranded on the beach that day. There had been a 6 hour effort to try to get the whale off the beach and we were told we might need to go help instead of spending our entire 3 hours swimming with whale sharks. Heck yeah we'd help! In fact, we were all more excited about the prospect of helping a beached whale more than swimming with whale sharks! But Deni and Paul got word that the rescue effort had been successful and the whale was off the beach. We were excited for the whale, but secretly disappointed that we had missed our opportunity to help out.

So off we went swimming with the whale sharks. Deni would look out for their shadows in the water as Paul positioned the boat for maximum viewing pleasure. They'd ID the animal visually (the spots behind their left fin are unique to each shark) and then we'd get the go-ahead to jump in. All we had to do was catch up - and let me tell you, those suckers are FAST. They look like they mosey along, but they are moving. We had the opportunity to swim with 7 different whale sharks, sometimes getting within a few feet. Holy COW they are big (biggest fish in the ocean), and these were just juveniles.

We were too awed by these creatures to focus on taking pictures, so here's our best shot.

Photo taken by Carlos Aguilera - professional photographer!

After a trying to keep up with them for a few hours, we found out that the whale had re-stranded itself and they needed help getting it into deeper water - our opportunity at last! So we hopped in the water and swam over to this HUGE 40 foot fin whale and spent about 30 min lined up and pushing it out into deeper water. Talk about amazing. True, everyone else had just spent the entire day trying to get this beast to safety and in we come, spend 1/2 an hour and see him successfully swimming again. But the entire day was unforgettable - filed under amazing experiences for sure.

Rescuers on-scene when we arrived

Catching up to give him another push

That bump is his blowhole. The spray is from the blow!

Edit: thanks to Heidi and Stephen on s/v Narama, we discovered that this was actually a Bryde's whale, not a fin whale. In researching Bryde's whales, we found the rescue ("our rescue" if you will) documented on Wikipedia!

24°10.744'N 110°21.066'W


Aaron and Nicole said...

Oh, WOW. What an amazing opportunity!

Anonymous said...

Sharks that don't eat people - my kind of shark! Great job saving the fin whale guys!!
Susan & Ken

Narama said...

Nice work you're heroes!

I think it's actually a Bryde's Whale. Your photo with spray shows the extra ridges down the top of the rostrum. A very cool whale indeed! (more rare anyways).

Heidi and Stephen.

Jason said...

Susan & Ken - what on earth are you reading our blog for?? Your life is way more interesting than ours. :)

Heidi and Stephen - hey guys! It's great to hear from you. We kept hoping we'd run across you guys again in the sea. Thanks for the correction! I googled Bryde's whales and came across a reference to the rescue: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bryde's_whale#Sightings