Another early morning start for day 3 of the Wetpixel Whale Sharks trip! We left the jetty at Isla Mujeres at 7am and headed off in pursuit of whale sharks!
We were the first boat out and this means that you also have to find the whale sharks when you get out! Unfortunately they were elusive and we ended up searching for about an hour, before discovering them around 2 miles west of our starting position!
The school was very dense, with a lot of sharks packed into a small area, feeding in lines and then turning in order to return. This made for some amazing encounters, literally ducking out of the way as the sharks concentrated on feeding. There were also some mantas, although they were less evident than they were yesterday.
The school’s density had the side effect of also meaning that the boats were quite densely packed too. It would be wrong to describe this as a “wilderness” experience! In contrast to proceeding years, the Mexican federal wildlife authorities have been out on the water every day, enforcing the rules for interactions. Among these are a permitting requirement (we watched them remove a boat without a permit yesterday), and very precise instructions on how the boats should manoeuvre around the sharks.
In general, the combination of the enforcement and a general understanding of the value of the sharks as an economic resource seems to mean that much of the poor behaviour that was sometimes observed in previous years is much less common.
On board the Lily M and all Keen M’s boats, the procedure is to drop photographers close to the action, but not too get close t0 the sharks.
The photographers then swim in to get close enough to get images, while the boats stand to some distance away. This effectively prevents the possibility of inadvertent contact with sharks. In part this is possible as we are wearing wetsuits, which allow us to swim efficiently. Many other operators use life jackets, which are almost impossible to swim effectively in. This forces them to drop their clients very close to the sharks, increasing the risk of inadvertent damage.
The action started from around 9 am and we left after 2 pm! Thought that time, there was pretty much a continuous stream of whale sharks to photograph! The majority of the boats also tend to return to port at around 12, so the for the last couple of hours, we were pretty much the only boat.
Once back on shore, we went off in the golf cart to visit Punta Sur.
On the way is another whale shark!
And some very handsome iguanas…
Looking forward to more amazing action tomorrow.