Animals,  Mexico

Swim With Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres

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Most everyone that has spent time with me knows that I say the beach is my happy place. I don’t typically spend a lot of time in the water, but the beach has my heart. So when my mother brought up jumping into the ocean to swim with whale sharks, I was a little hesitant. Okay. I was very hesitant!! I figured I would just go along on the trip and enjoy the beach and break from work. But then I pushed myself! And I am so incredibly glad I faced a major fear of mine and jumped into the ocean to swim with these majestic creatures!

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Whale Sharks!

So, what is a whale shark, really? They are the largest fish, with the largest recorded one being 62 feet (but on average closer to 48 for females)! That’s around 12 of me! They have lots of tiny teeth and a huge mouth, but the actual size of their throat is only about the size of a quarter! They’re filter feeders, so they just swim around sucking in plankton and such. They look to have a blue/grey look with lots of spots and lines along the top. To see them we went down to Isla Mujeres, a small island just off Cancun. They migrate to this area around June – September, so we went in August! The cool thing about when you swim with whale sharks here is that it’s 100% on their terms. They’re out in the ocean living life. 

Face Your Fears

When it was time to go out to see the whale sharks, we were with a group of 3 others who were planning on going in. I was all suited up and prepped as if I was going to get in, but I hadn’t made up my mind yet. The boat ride out was a little rough, and as I looked back at the hotel and Cancun area, everything just kept getting smaller and smaller. Finally, I couldn’t see it anymore. No more land in sight. Now, I’m not afraid of being on top of the water out in the ocean. I’ve done cruises and other boat trips, but the idea that I might be jumping into the water that far away from land kept getting a little scarier for me.

Heading out on the boat to jump in the water and swim with the sharks!
Bye-bye land

Yes, I cried!

So, we’re among all these other boats with people jumping off right and left of me. The first group from our boat jumps in and starts swimming off. I start crying. No joke! I began crying like a little baby. The more they were talking about what I needed to do, the more I freaked out. You can’t see the bottom. You don’t know what’s going to come up from the deep dark blue. I wasn’t afraid of the whale sharks. I’d done enough research to know they weren’t dangerous to me, but who’s to say what else was in there or could happen? I mean, I’ve watched Shark Week!

Snorkel gear on and getting ready to jump in to swim with the sharks.
Trying to practice not hyperventilating with the snorkel.

The second group was getting in the water now, and I was at the ugly crying stage. I mean, no one was going to push me off the boat. It wasn’t something I HAD to do. I think I was crying in part because I was afraid of jumping in, but I was also afraid of what would happen if I didn’t jump in. I could see them from the boat, and they were amazing creatures! How could I possibly pass up this opportunity to swim with the whale sharks?

Here we go…

Well, now it was my group’s turn to jump in and swim with the whale sharks. I got to the side of the boat and tried to get myself to do it, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stop crying enough and told my mother to just go without me. (I wouldn’t have been able to see clearly through my goggles anyways with all those tears 😥 .) So, I was sitting there on the boat, this 36-year-old crying because she was afraid of the water. I was embarrassed with myself. I wanted to jump in and be brave. My mom came up and the first group went again. Listening to everyone’s stories I knew I had to shake it off. I mean, there were little kids in there for crying out loud!

Swimming with the whale sharks!
Oh my goodness look at that mouth!

We got back around to my group’s turn and this time I was put together enough to do it. I was going in without my flippers on (they add to a claustrophobic feeling) and told my mom and the guide that they both had to hold my hands the whole time. Yes, I’m a grown woman who needed her mom! I took a deep breath, held on to my snorkel and goggles, and slipped right on into the water to swim with the whale sharks.

I did it!

They both held my hands as we swam closer and closer to the whale sharks. They. Were. Amazing! I mean, it’s hard to put into words how amazing I thought they were, and how life-changing the experience was. We swam around and they were everywhere, and they were HUGE! The pictures and videos, while amazing, just can’t capture that sensation you felt when they swam past you.

I faced my fears and jumped in the ocean to swim with these amazing whale sharks!

Our time was up, and we headed back to the boat. One of the members from the first group went back in, but it looked like everyone else on the boat was done. (Apparently, they were getting sick and I just didn’t see it.) They asked if anyone else was going to want to go again, and I said, YES! Are you kidding me? Of course I wanted to get back in the water! This time I put my fins on and jumped into the water with a little more gusto! It was so peaceful in the water (despite all the other people and boats surrounding us), and the whale sharks just kept swimming on by. If you were in their way, YOU were the one who better move!

I LOVED Swimming with the Whale Sharks

I know I’ve said this a couple of times, but it truly was AMAZING! It wasn’t something that had been on my bucket list, but it was something that I will never forget! I’m afraid of things every day. We all are. They might be small fears, and they might be huge ones. However, we cannot let that keep us from living our lives the best we possibly can! We can’t allow ourselves to talk us out of experiencing all the wonders out there! Face your fears! Swim with whale sharks! It’s worth it, trust me!

Proof I was in the water!!
Whale Sharks

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    • liapontarelli

      I didn’t think I had the guts….hence the ugly crying for awhile! But I’ve been itching to go back and do it again ever since!

  • Eric Gamble

    That is so cool. I am so happy that you got over your fears and just jumped in! Darcee is kind of petrified of swimming and yet has overcome her fears like you a few times to join me on some epic underwater adventures like riding the underwater B.O.B.s in the Bahamas!
    Now with this idea of swimming with the whale sharks in Mexico, I love it. Love how their mouths move in your video…I would be tempted to put my hand in…cause I am a stupid little boy at heart! But I bet they looked so beautiful up close and personal. How amazing! I have it to possibly swim with the Humpback Whales in Tonga but I may have to add swim with whale sharks off the coast of Mexico to my list as well!

    • liapontarelli

      I would absolutely love to swim with humpback whales! They are such amazing creatures too! It’s funny with the whale sharks and their mouths. Their mouths are huge! Like some as wide as a person is tall it seemed, but their throat is about the size of a quarter! But such beautiful animals, and I hope to see them again and not have panic attacks before!

  • Linda (LD Holland)

    Swimming with whale sharks is absolutely on my bucket list. We were in Belize one year and missed them by 2 weeks. If we could have, we would have cancelled our tickets home! I can understand being a little freaked out. After all, they are BIG. And not nice when the sea is rough. But I am happy to read you conquered your fears and jumped in. I am sure this will be a memory you will never forget! I never would have wanted to get out of the water.

    • liapontarelli

      I am so glad I did it too! I wasn’t so much afraid of them, but what else might be in the water…..I probably should stop watching shark week! I am hoping to go back and do it again!

  • Medha Verma

    I can totally understand your fear and your need to have your mom next to you. You’re not a baby for crying, I have been afraid and cried too in situations where I’ve not had the nerve to do something purely because of fear. But I am so happy to read that you faced and defeated your fear and ended up having such a lovely experience ultimately. Cancun, from what I’ve read and seen pictures, looks beautiful and even though I am a little afraid of the sea myself, I’d love to swim with the whale sharks myself. I would also ask the guide to hold my hand through the whole experience but I’d want to do it anyway!

    • liapontarelli

      I am so glad I faced it and defeated it as well. It is a great experience, and I hope you get the chance to do it some day!

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