Friday, January 31, 2014


Graceful, gentle giants.
What a beauty. 
This morning sitting in the cockpit, at Marina Costa Baja, I was enjoying the morning sun, and suddenly a big “flipper” appeared off our stern. Thinking it belonged to one of the sea loins that frequent the harbor, I sat back and waited for him to reveal himself.  Something about the flipper was off. Curious, I sat staring at the pool of water. BINGO! A head pokes up, about 15 feet in front of the “flipper”. Then a tail graceful surfaces another several feet behind the fin. WHALE SHARK!  I called to Darrell, and both he and Spark popped out of the companion way. That’s the thing about Baja, you may think, “I have done just about everything here, time to go home”, and then your arrogance is proved wrong. The Sea of Cortez is a wonder, an ever-changing aquarium of large, small, colorful, tasty and not so tasty life. Baja still surprises. There is nothing like this place, NOWHERE on the planet.  
The Magote anchorage with Panga's filled with snorkelers, 
with La Paz in the background

 I have been waiting to see whale sharks in the Sea for 4 LONG years. In the past week I have had 3 whale shark happenings, Feast or Famine. Last Saturday we planned a fish taco, coleslaw, and brownie picnic lunch (we are still eating the 40 lbs of Wahoo Darrell caught in the Cerralvo Channel) and took off in pursuit of the whale sharks that inhabit the shallow waters at El Mogote.  We were joined by Doug and Carla, from “Moondance”, currently moored in Fiji, and Ana, our good SF Bay friend now a local resident of La Paz. In great anticipation, we pointed El Tiburon west towards the clear turquoise waters a mile off of La Paz.
YEAH! Life is Good.
Clear water, loves of my life, and Tiburon Ballenas!

The anchorage area is framed by a long, long strip of white beach and dotted with a half dozen other boaters searching for the magnificent fish. One of the ancient critters surfaced nearby before we had the hook down. Soon afterwards, the dingy splashed down, snorkels, masks, and fins were thrown topside, Spark’s vest buckled, and off we went to really close and personal with the sharks. Sparky was not allowed in the water. No harassing the whale sharks! Darrell and Doug were first in the water, and got to swim along side of the BIG whale shark. Darrell said, “That was a really BIG tail, and it definitely was the tail of a SHARK”. I swam and swam and swam, but could never quite catch-up. I was disappointed, but I did get several good sightings that left me pretty satisfied. I am also going to try it again.

  Tourists snorkel off pangas (Mexican fishing boats).
 Carla and Ana, BFFs
 Smiling Doug after his adventure.
Wahoo Tacos, Carla's Coleslaw, Black Beans, 
& CHAMPAGNE with Brownies. (Thanks Ana!)

When we returned back to our slip I started researching about this rare species.  Here’s the good and the bad news of what I learned.
Impressive, yes? And Very Beautiful.

First of all, the whale shark, or Rhincodon typus, is a slow-moving shark that filter feeds. Meaning, we were not at risk of being eaten by the largest known fish. Whew. These enormous fish can grow to more than 40 feet and weigh up to 47,000 pounds. This means whale sharks rival the largest dinosaurs in weight.  And like the dinosaur, the species, originated about 60 millions years ago. They prefer warm tropical water and live to be about 70 years old. They are highly migratory and highly fecund. So, why have their numbers been reduced?

Here’s the sad, bad news. These beautiful fish are harpoon hunted in Southeast Asia rendering the species at risk of distinction. In China, 600 whale sharks retailing for $31,000.00 each are killed a year. Some for the fin for soup, some for the meat which goes to Chinese restaurants in Sri Lanka, Italy and France. However, and most devastating, are the increasing quantities of fish oil made from their livers. More than $50 million of oil is shipped to America for use in cosmetics and in capsules for health benefits. Not all fish oil in the USA comes from whale sharks, but is imperative that stricter requirements in labling need to be enforced in this growing $1.5 billion industry.

Sobering facts from Southeastern China, reported in 
National Geographic News. 
The slaughter of whale sharks and basking sharks is illegal.

But, there is Good News. Tourists around the world have been discovering how incredible it is to swim with these vulnerable and docile fish.  It appears that whale sharks don’t mind humans swimming about them, but the impact of this practice requires deeper study. The dive trade has demonstrated that whale sharks are valuable alive rather than fished. Whale sharks are now protected in Australia, Tasmania, the Maldives, Philippines, India, Thailand, Honduras, Mexico, and US Atlantic waters. They are also protected in China and by International law. The above picture of the illegal slaughter was taken after a 3-year investigation. 

One thing is certain, swimming with the whale sharks deeply touched our hearts and it is an experience which we will always remember. It is also important to remember that when swimming with tiburon ballenas, always be respectful and do not touch them. We were pleased to see that the Mexican tourist pangas we saw demonstrated admiration and reverence for the Tiburon Ballenas. 

Darrell sharing his experience.
Alas, it was time to raise the anchor and return to Marina Costa Baja.

Whale Shark photographs curtsey of the internet.


  1. Love your post and the whale shark experience on El Tiburon. Thanks again!

  2. Yes, Sarah and Darell, it was a great time everything including the swim was delicious.