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September 2013    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 28, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Yucatek Divers, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

whale sharks, cenotes and reefs on demand

from the September, 2013 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

"Go, go, go! Over there! Over there!" Several miles off Isla de Mujeres, our guide was yelling and pointing to an immense spotted dorsal fin flopped over on the surface, and a two-foot high caudal fin trailing it by a good eight feet. I went over there, as fast as I could. The shark pulled away easily, finning languid "s" patterns in the plankton-rich water. I clamped down on my snorkel and swam harder, or maybe the shark slowed, but I saw a gray shape in front of me, then the white spots, and then . . .

Maroma Beach Resort and SpaWhale sharks. For me, they're the Mount Everest of sea beasts, and like Ahab, I've looked for them in the seven seas. In Papua New Guinea, Australia, Palau, Honduras and more. But not one damn whale shark. On Grand Cayman, a South African guide told me there were so many off Mozambique that she got tired of looking at them. In Cozumel last April, I heard about a kid who, on his first openwater dive after certification, saw a 15-footer next to his boat. No doubt, I had the whale shark jinx. Then I received an email from the dive travel agency Island Dreams, with the heading "Whale Shark Season in Mexico," and a picture of a hotel big enough to house an army. I thought, "Oy. Huge hotels, all-inclusive partying, parasailing, screaming kids and . . . whale sharks?" Is this something real divers do? But I wanted to see the sharks.

Each summer, hundreds of whale sharks appear off the Yucatan barrier island of Holbox to feast in an ocean turned pea-green by a massive plankton bloom. The Holbox sharks are spread over dozens or even hundreds of square miles, in often murky waters. You can make the tiny town of Holbox home base, but if you're staying in the Cancun area, a van will pick you up at your hotel at 4 a.m. ( Undercurrent was the first publication to break the story of the Holbox whale sharks; read our review online at )

A potentially denser gathering occurs with some regularity in the open ocean off Isla de Mujeres. Some scientists believe the sharks arrive to feed off the spawn of tunny, a small tuna species. My late-July visit would be at the tail end of the full moon, when the tunny had spawned, and a huge aggregation was predicted....

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