Wahoo Whale Sharks

First Encounter with Mexican Whale Sharks! – 4/9/2020

Whale sharks are both the largest fish and shark in the world. Whale sharks are filter feeders and they have no teeth, meaning they can’t eat you. That being said, their size is intimidating; they are ordinarily between 5.5 and 10 meters in length, though the largest recorded specimen was over 18 metres. One thing at odds with its size are its eyes, which are remarkably small. Whale sharks are known to spend from June to September in the Bay of LA area and can sometimes be seen as late as December. The whale sharks then migrate south to the La Paz area, where they stay until spring. Why do they spend so much time in this area? Apparently the water is nutrient-rich, due to upwellings caused by the coastline shape, currents and wind patterns in the area. Even if you don’t have your own boat you can visit the area and snorkel with one of the reputable tour boats that operate in the area.

Our first stop in the Bay of LA was at the northern anchorage, La Gringa, a popular spot for camping, fishing and spotting whale sharks. We headed there primarily because we had heard there had been whale sharks hanging around that area of the bay in the past few days.

La Gringa Anchorage

After anchoring in La Gringa, Andrew went off to talk to some of the other kid boats in the anchorage to find out where they had seen the whale sharks.  It turns out they had been swimming among the boats the previous few days. When Andrew returned, he spotted one in the distance, so he and I gathered our gear and went in search of them.  When we got close to one, I put on my gear, jumped in and holy crap, they are huge; you can’t help feeling intimidated even though you know they aren’t going to eat you, because they are ENORMOUS!!!!

One of the whale sharks feeding, you can see the white dots of plankton flowing into its mouth.

We repeated this a few times where we would spot one, drive near it and jump in as it passed by.  We decided to go back and get the kids and tell Love and Luck.  It took us a while to spot one and when we did our three teens put on their masks and jumped in; Tristan eagerly swam very close to it.  The first one they swam with was juvenile and curious.  He came back a couple of times for a look. 

Tristan, Max and Ava snorkelling with whale sharks

We continued to spot different whale sharks and the kids would jump in and swim with them.  I think what we learned today was that it is better if you find one to stay put and let them come back to you rather than jumping back in the dinghy and driving over to them.

Whale Sharks – 5/9/2020

A whale shark with remora attached to its head.

You may be wondering what all the little fish are that are attached to the whale sharks; these are called remora or suckerfish. They actually have a sucker pad on the top of their head, which looks a bit like the bottom of a sneaker, but is is actually a dorsal fin that allows them to stick to the whale shark. They are found on sharks, whales, manta rays, dolphins and turtles. Remoras eat dead skin, scales, faecal matter and parasites from their host. In fact, scientists are studying the remora’s sucker pad to develop new adhesive-free attachment methods.

After an uneventful morning, Andrew suggested I have a look from the boat for any whale sharks to which I scoffed I’m not going to be able to see them from the boat.  I glanced around and happened to look between the back of the boat and the shore and there was a whale shark.  I eagerly raced downstairs to change into swimmers, and Tristan and I grabbed our snorkels and fins. 

It was a juvenile whale shark and as it passed us it would turn its head to look at us.  It did a lap and came back around for another look.  Meanwhile, the mum snuck upon us and it wasn’t until she was nearly upon us with her big mouth looming that we noticed, there may have been a bit of squealing through the snorkel, by me.

The photo of Tristan snorkelling with a juvenile whale shark kind of gives you an idea of their size.

Ava joined us and kept asking “where is the shark?”, but it was right behind her and soon gave her a start.  Both Tristan and Ava swam along with the pair for some time watching them feed.

Julie had heard about the lazy river at the end of the La Gringa point where, at the change of tides, the water flows through a narrow lagoon and out along the beach.  The water level and flow are at their peak when it’s a full moon, which had been a couple of days earlier.  We packed up the dingy with shoes, noodles and towed Max and Ava’s surfboards (Max attached to his) behind us.  Max had a smile on his face and seemed to enjoy being towed behind.

We headed over to where the other dinghies were gearing up with their various floatation devices for the late afternoon event.  After anchoring and grabbing our noodles and Max and Ava with their surfboards we waded through the knee-deep water to where the current flowed and lazed in the water as it slowly carried us along.  A fellow cruiser gave a shout after being pinched by a crab and there was the occasional bump from a large rock when the water was just too shallow to pass over it easily.   A great time to catch up with friends, while watching different birds as we passed by.

We packed up an hour or so later after two rides on the river and towed both Max and Ava grinning behind on their surfboards.

lots More Whale Sharks!!! – 6/9/2020

After a huge cooked brunch for Father’s Day and a short nap, Andrew and I decided it was time to look for some whale sharks and there was one nearby.  The kids from both boats had swam over to it, Mark kayaked over and Andrew and I joined with our dinghy.  We were soon joined by another baby and its mum and all oohed and aahed over these gentle giants.

Look at those lips!

Throughout the chaos of 5 teens and 4 adults, one brown booby swam between the chatting teens without a care in the world.  It seemed completely unbothered about the splashing whale sharks or giggling kids, and it was only when Ava reached out to pat it that it finally decided to fly off.

Crazy booby

Eventually the whale sharks moved off and the kids swam back to the boats while the adults followed the sharks to their new feeding grounds.  We were so glad we followed as they were so interactive and stayed between the dinghy and kayak for at least 30 minutes, swimming between us while tilting their heads to look at you.  I photographed from the dinghy for a while before joining the others in the water.

In my efforts to get a photo of one eating, it turned to look at me and I ended up floating on top of its head with lots of squealing and “oh shit!” repeated several times; I was trying to keep very, very still, not to disturb it. It was over within seconds and I was deposited on its other side at eye level with another very large whale shark.  I think we were both shocked to be at eye level with each other and I found myself swept up on top of its head, too, all the while videoing my hands and fins as I tumbled around. I could hear the others laughing their heads off and was told later that it was very funny. 

These playful creatures would swim right up to our motionless dinghy and then circle it, watching you.  Sometimes they would swim under you, lifting the dinghy slightly as they went.

It was amazing!!!!!!!

We finished off the day by the five of us and all of Love and Luck by going on the Lazy River swim.  There was quite a large group of other cruising kid boats setting up dinner and a swim.  Tristan had decided to not come yesterday and seemed to enjoy all the shrimp that were swimming in the lagoon while Sally and Ava found a whole pile of snails and Julie and I managed to get a few scrapes from the rocks and oysters as we passed over them.  It was good to catch up with a few boats we haven’t seen for a while and cool off from the heat at La Gringa.

The Bay of LA has fewer than 3000 residents, but it does have a really well stocked supermarket called La Isla with fresh fruit and vegetables stored in fridges, drinks and alcohol and pretty much anything else you might need, including some things we couldn’t find in Santa Rosalia. The supermarket get its fresh produce on a Friday and it starts to make its way onto the shelves on Saturday, although each day more is added from the cold storage out back and we found that even on a Wednesday we were able to get fresh lettuce. You will pay a bit more than you would at a larger town like Penasco or Santa Rosalia, but you are in a desert. The store also sells internet for 20 pesos for one hour and you can sit outside and use it.

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