Ask and ye shall receive. Today I saw the most incredible animal (well, technically a fish), I’ve ever seen in person, save for elephants. And nearly as big.
As we pulled up to the village of Bahia de los Angeles, our intended pit stop for the morning to stock up on some fresh produce and a little time on the local wifi, we saw a panga with people swimming just off it. I ask Stu what was in the water, and he said ‘Someone’s head…wait, no, I think it is a whale shark’. Never more than an arm’s reach away, I pulled the binoculars to my face and saw a rounded dorsal fin poking out of the water. I said, ‘No, that can’t be a whale shark, it has a dorsal fin’. See, with this incredible beast I’ve been so obsessed to catch sight of, I hadn’t even clocked the fact it had a dorsal fin. A second look through the binoculars and I realized there were the tell-tale spots on the dorsal fin. A whale shark! A real whale shark, in-person! I started jumping up and down on the spot, absolutely elated we were seeing one, even if it was several hundred meters away.
After dropping our anchor and lowering the dinghy into the water, we nipped into the beach so I could scour the local tienda for some fresh fruit and veggies. After a decent stock-up, we returned to the dinghy, and as we were departing the beach, noticed we could see the same dorsal fin not far from our boat. Stu and I consulted each other with a glance, knowing we didn’t want to harass the beautiful fish, but longing for a closer look. We decided to go closer toward the whale shark, then cut the motor and see if we were able to drift closer.
Not only did we drift closer, but she (for some reason, I feel every whale shark must be a she) turned toward us and did several passes right next to the dinghy. As she passed, she literally took my breath away. Even the kids, who usually have something they’re making endless noise about, were holding their breath and watching in awe as the easily 15 foot long fish wound its way past the boat. It is pretty surreal to see something large enough to easily flip the small boat we were sitting in just saunter by, the essence of a gentle beast.
I had my phone out and ready to take photos and videos, and then flip flopped back and forth between wanting to record it, and just wanting to watch and take her in. I honestly don’t remember when I hit record, and when I didn’t, but I do know that my memory feels like I didn’t watch nearly enough, and my photos folder on my phone tells me I don’t have enough recorded memories of her for my liking. I find that a perpetual struggle as we witness this incredible countryside, ocean and all its wildlife – I want to just watch and absorb, but I also revel in the photos and videos after the fact, and always wish I had taken more. It really does make the ‘perfect shot’ less special when you can take endless amounts, and delete those you don’t like with ease; it doesn’t feel that long ago that I had to wait until I returned from four months in Kenya to develop the 25 rolls of film I’d shot while there, not knowing what had worked and what hadn’t. Oh, and it was 21 years ago I returned, so it was a little longer than memory serves.
We spent the better part of the day anchored off the beach there, watching one, then two, then three whale sharks swim around, seemingly unaware of the regular brigade of pangas coming by with people to watch them. I noted to Stu that I can see why they were called whale sharks, what with their incredible size, and the sight of their dorsal and tail fin zig zagging through the water at the surface as they swim. I admit that from the corner of my eye I would have assumed Jaws was on his way for a taste.
We’re planning to hang around Bahia de los Angeles until we don’t want to anymore, so fingers crossed this won’t be our only encounter with these magnificent beasts!