Swimming With the World’s Biggest Fish, the Whale Shark

Field Inspection link

Bay of La Paz, Gulf of California — Jumping into the Sea of Cortez to swim alongside a massive whale shark is like being in a National Geographic documentary. The massive fish swims serenely toward you, huge mouth agape. It looms out of the murky water surprisingly quickly, so you twist your body to get out of the way, hoping not to be sucked Jonah-like down the gullet of the world’s biggest fish. But the whale shark sees you and alters course, gliding by within arm’s reach like a great big submarine.

That’s how I experienced my first (and quite possibly only) encounter with the world’s largest fish. I was traveling with the National Geographic Committee for Research and Exploration (CRE) on a field inspection in the southern part of Mexico’s Baja California. The committee was there to see the places and projects it has funded in the region, receive reports from grantees, and to assess how one of the most beautiful and diverse parts of the planet is doing in the face of ongoing development, growing tourism, and climate change.

Whale shark photo by Dave Witting, NOAA Fisheries

Swimming with whale sharks is one of the more popular tourist attractions in the Gulf. Operators of small boats take tourists out to where the fish are feeding. There, under strictly controlled regulations that limit the number of people that may approach a whale a shark, the minimum distance one must stay from the animals, and the total amount of time allowed with them, visitors may have an encounter with these gentle giants they will never forget.

I was fortunate to be in the six-person group that included renowned shark expert Pete Klimley, a star of wildlife documentaries produced by National Geographic and PBS. He explained how the giant whale sharks would swim —> Read More