July 12, 2009

We found the Whale Sharks! Not ten, not 20, not 50…more than 150! After hearing rumors yesterday of several hundred sharks out in the Agua Azúl (“blue water”), we decided to make the long ride out to the deep water well north of the Yucatán Peninsula. That meant departing at 6:30 am to make the three-hour trek of almost 60 miles. Though nowhere near as rough as yesterday’s ride, we did some bouncing around the boat before our deckhand Abrám shouted from the flying bridge that there were “muchos tiburones ballenas” ahead.

Our crew today included our Deep Search threesome (Kip, Shari, and John), plus photographer Brian Skerry and his assistant Hela Shamash. Between Kip and Brian, we had some serious photo/video horsepower on board. Both are accomplished professionals who shoot for National Geographic. At the moment, Brian is here on assignment for the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP) for several weeks, the first of 24 top photographers to arrive for the Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition (RAVE) that began yesterday.

Within minutes of the first sighting, Capitán Willy had deftly placed the boat directly in the midst of a dozen or more sharks and we scrambled for masks, fins, cameras, etc. In contrast to yesterday’s conditions (see previous post), the water was a deep azure blue—and though full of nutrients, dramatically clearer than our challenging green dives yesterday. Brian leapt into the water and within seconds started giving voice to a string of superlatives that all were to repeat for the rest of the day, among them “incredible, awesome, fantastic, magnificent, surreal, mind-blowing!”

Here, in the Agua Azúl, the Whale Sharks are much more relaxed than yesterday. And there are so, so many… At times, we found ourselves surrounded by the gentle giants—literally a dozen or more of them! In this clearer water, we could see the sharks in much better detail: the dappled pattern of spots and light stripes on their grey skin, the remora clinging to their fins and tails, the schools of pilot fish swimming beneath each shark, and their gaping mouths—incessantly pumping the plankton in
and through their gill rakers.

As one of our team said, “I keep expecting to find my kids bouncing on my chest, only to discover this was all a dream!”

John Racanelli
Photos (c) 2009 Kip Evans

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