While vacationing in Riviera Maya, Mexico, friends from Vancouver, British Columbia and Toronto, Ontario spent a day on a whale shark watching excursion. Whale sharks are only in this area of Cancun for a short period of a few months, from May through September so planning is key. Since the group was staying in a resort in Playa Del Carmen, they had to make their way to the ferry terminal in Cancun to transit over to a small island named Isla Mejores, a short 20-minute ride across the Caribbean Sea. Meeting up with their tour guide from Serious Diving they were soon on their way. Racing to nearly 20 miles offshore, that is where the fun began.

Searching the area for whale sharks was tough with an inexperienced eye, but the captain and crew were skilled. The whale sharks can grow to an immense 40 to 60 feet in length and weighing tons. On average an adult will be in the range of 20 to 30 feet in length and nearing 40 thousand pounds. These amazing creatures visit this location for a short season mainly because of food. Strong currents carry microorganisms as well as tuna eggs from a great distance, making for a feast for these massive animals. Since other filter feeder type animals also follow these same feeding rituals, this season brings with it other amazing animals. While waiting for more whale sharks to appear, a giant manta ray was noticed swimming directly at the groups’ tour boat. Looking like 2 shark fins in the distance, it was soon noted those fins were not sharks, but a giant manta. The giant oceanic manta ray is a variety of ray in the family Mobulidae and the most extensive type of ray in the world. These giant rays as mentioned are also filter feeders, meaning they swim with mouths wide open, scooping up any small creatures and algae that are within the water being taken into their mouths. With wingspans ranging from 17 to 22 feet, these amazing animals are a joy to watch as they fly through the water with amazing grace.

As you will see, spotting this huge ray swimming right on the tour boat was very exciting. Watching him approach than ever so gracefully diving slightly to go beneath the boat made for a great experience. These waters off the coast of Cancun are generally crystal clear with visibility nearing 100 feet underwater. With all the plankton, tuna eggs, and other microorganisms in the waters at this time, you can see the visibility is greatly reduced. If you love the ocean and all it has to offer, take a trip to Isla Mujeres for an unbeatable excursion to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea, and giant mantas. Two incredibly large, harmless animals of our amazing ocean world. More