Redeeming Myself By Swimming With Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks in Mexico

A few years ago, I attempted to swim with whale sharks at the Georgia Aquarium. I was petrified and without enough warning to do anything productive, I passed out in the tank. My journey with the gentle giants ended in darkness, cut short by my fear and denial. One of the activities offered from Grand Residences Riviera Cancun is swimming with whale sharks in the ocean and I jumped at the opportunity to redeem myself after my epic fail with whale sharks the last time.

Boat ride to swim with whale sharks

Our transportation arrived at 7 am and I was nervous. It was about a 45 minutes drive to the boat and another hour to the snorkel spot so I had plenty of time to process the situation. I was about to jump into the water in Mexico with whale sharks. Massive ones. Hopefully, they would swim towards me. Would I be aware enough to take photos or video? I wasn’t sure. Would I get too scared on the journey and back out? I’d done it before. Or worse? Would I do something stupid like panic and pass out again? Now was my chance to redeem myself. I put it out of my mind and watched the waves crash against the boat.

When we arrived, I prepared to jump off the boat. I put on my mask and snorkel and slipped on my fins. I started the GoPro video immediately so I wouldn’t forget and I waited for the moment. We were told to jump and I shut off my panic brain and focused on every movement. I slid into the water and popped up.
Swimming next to a whale shark
The fin of a whale shark

Where was it? Focus! I put my head into the water, blew the water out of my snorkel and looked. Oh Hell! It was right next to me. What was I suppose to do again? It was moving too quickly. Oh yeah! Swim; fast! I tried to keep up. It was so beautiful and its movements were so smooth. It looked like it was hardly moving but it was quickly gliding through the water. I stayed with it for a minute before it moved on and I felt like I was alone in the ocean with it. Nothing else existed at that moment. It wasn’t aggressive toward me or concerned that I was there. Everything was calm and I realized I had stopped swimming and I just watched in awe. As it passed me, the fin brushed my arm and I had my “wow” moment that will stay with me forever.
The mouth of a whale shark

Swimming next to a whale shark

I had one more opportunity to swim with another whale shark. When I jumped in the second time, its mouth was right in front of me and moving closer. I pulled my legs up so I didn’t bump into it and it was inches from me. The fin passed me and I actually had to back up. I started to cough because I realized I was holding my breath. I had to take my head out of the water and the snorkel out of my mouth but I calmed down quickly and went in for a second look. The bubbled had cleared and I could see it perfectly. It’s beautiful spots were bright under the water and its massive gills moved slowly creating tiny bubbles in the water.

Snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico

The boat picked us up once the whale shark was gone and I sat quietly without chatting to the other guests. I had an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. Some moments are too precious to put into words immediately. I was engraving every image into my brain, filling the deep crevices with this fascinating encounter.

Without Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, I wouldn’t have known this was possible and without their support, I wouldn’t have been able to experience it. The allure of their resort is undeniable with their infinity pool overlooking the ocean, their private yacht, master suites, terrace hot tubs and prime location but it’s opportunities like this that put it ahead of the game.

I’ve been having a wild year with penguin, whale, shark, gorilla and chimpanzee encounters but this is one experience that I wasn’t quite sure would make it off of my list. We must face our fears head on and never accept defeat, even if it has found us before.

Next up… great whites with Islander Charters. Let this wild year continue.

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45 thoughts on “Redeeming Myself By Swimming With Whale Sharks

  1. What an amazing experience!! This one is definitely on my list! I remember feeling similarly about manta rays when I first started diving with them – so majestic, and yet still petrifying!

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    • I felt like that about the manta rays too, especially since it was at night! It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life though. Once I dive with great whites next month I’ll let you know which one I like the most 🙂

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  2. Pingback: Redeeming Myself By Swimming With Whale Sharks | Scenes of futures past

  3. Hi Lesley, These kind of posts of yours, I like the best. It comes across as if they are written whilst you are still processing the magnificent event. Although I was a little concerned by the fact that you thought you had to redeem yourself from an epic fail. Us mere mortals can get overwhelmed sometimes 🙂 I love your photos – especially the tail fin shot. What a wonderful experience.
    Can wait for the Great Whites!

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    • I did write it soon enough that it was still vivid in my mind.

      I did feel like I needed to redeem myself; not to anyone else, but to myself. I don’t like when irrational fears get the best of me. I knew this was something beautiful that I wanted to experience and I didn’t want to give up.

      I’m so excited about the great whites that I’ve already started to count the days. 🙂

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      • I can understand and respect that. 🙂 I think sharks are beautiful creatures. I’ve swam with blacktips. Intelligent, interested and curious is how I’d describe them. Can’t wait to hear your experience! Will be really jealous if you do this in the clear waters of Guadalope!! 🙂

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    • Have you had any other encounters like this in the water, Steve. I think the night snorkel with the manta rays is still on top for me but I’m not sure. They are all so different and amazing.

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  4. Very cool -and great article. We were at Akumal swimming with the turtles last month. We were going to go swim with the whale sharks but chickened out in the end. Might just be one of those bucket list items

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  5. Congrats Lesley! You caught some gorgeous photos! The whale shark experience has been on my bucket list for a long time. I wrote on my blog years ago about a timing mishap in Belize. I hoped to see the whale sharks but informed that I was a “week early,” because they hadn’t arrived yet, which boggled my mind. : )

    http://marisalavalette.com/2011/05/16/crying-on-the-beach-in-placencia-%C2%A8%C2%B4bad-timing%C2%B4%C2%B4-takes-on-a-whole-new-meaning/

    Still haven’t seen the sharks yet! They’re still on my bucket list! My cousin is getting married in Cancun July 2016. I wonder if I can see them then. : )

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  6. glad you were able to ‘get ‘er done’ this time! Swimming with whale sharks has been on my list for a while too, last couple of times I went out, there were no sharks around. 😦

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  7. I did this a few years ago (or one further around the coast, I can’t remember the port’s name). I always knew I wouldn’t ever get in the water, but given how interested this particular shark was in the boat itself, I didn’t need to – power to you for doing what I couldn’t! What made the whole trip even more amazing was, on our way back, two manta-rays surfaced, chasing each other. It was a magical day 🙂

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  8. I hope that you really don’t consider the other experience an epic failure, rather just an expression of the fact that you are human. We all have our fears, and it is the process of trying to conquer them that matters more than the outcome. That said, I am glad you got to have this experience – how cool! I would be terrified to dive with white sharks!

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  9. Wow! How exciting for you! I can’t imagine having one brush against me. I’m definitely not as brave as you are! Great description of your newest adventure!!

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  10. Hiya, I am wishing to do similar experiences, but am extremely concerned about the ethical trading of these tours. What checks did you do with the hotel to ensure they use local knowledgeable ethical companies for their tours? Thanks

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  11. Pingback: Redeeming Myself By Swimming With Whale Sharks | Persona

  12. Talk about close encounters! Really awesome and what a great experience. I’ve spoke to people on dive trips that have swam with whale sharks yet I’ve yet too. Mostly I’ve seen reef sharks, hammers, and rays. Love the description when using the GoPro and it always frustrating to think you get the shot only to learn the camera wasn’t on – been there.

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