Out of The Blue...

August 2005

From the dive log of diver/photographer, Bill Gleason

The first Whale Shark I ever saw in Socorro turned out to be a "baby".

It happened during a routine safety stop at 15 ft., slowly drifting along in blue water with our dive tender above us, with only the occasional small silky shark to help the minutes pass.

All of a sudden, right below us, we see a very, very large animal heading for the stern of the tender. Slowly coming into view, we see it's a Whale Shark (at least twenty feet long) and it seems to be curious about inspecting the tender. From just five feet away!

So we watch, transfixed, and slowly move toward the Whale Shark, swim with it until it disappears into the blue, and "voila", we suddenly just had the best safety stop either of us can remember! And never went deeper than 15 (well, 20) feet.

As great as that moment was, it was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Two days later, at Roca Partida, our serene blue water dolphin experience was rudely interrupted by a giant reef swimming by.

At the heart of the "swimming reef" was a 35 ft Whale Shark, almost twice the size of the "baby" we had seen, surrounded by tuna, jacks, a couple of sharks, and even a dolphin. The entire freight train was alive, and one of the absolute best underwater experiences of all time. The Whale Shark was moving, the sun was slightly behind it (not good for pictures), and we were certainly not close enough, but the moment was still magic. As it was when the Whale Shark re-appeared three different times during a single dive, and visited nearly every diver in the water at the time!


TIPS ON SPOTTING WHALE SHARKS:

Baby or adult, they're huge, and you can certainly improve your chances for encounters by finding the "drift point". Since water in the ocean is constantly moving (even when you don't see or feel a particular current) you look "up current" and find where that particular current hits a landmass (Roca Partida, or The Boiler in San Benedicto). That's where the whale sharks feed. As the current and tides shift, the whale sharks move, and that's usually what you see in the middle or end of a dive. And yes, they are curious about tenders, perhaps thinking the shape resembles another whale shark "basking" on the surface (which they also do).

Topside, look for the very long, distinctive dorsal fin (this is not a dolphin), and often a couple of sea birds accompanying it. The larger adults accumulate a fair amount of marine life attached to it, and actually become a floating "eco system" all of their own.  
As the water cools a bit during late January through March, Socorro also hosts an annual migration/mating party of humpback whales. Plaintive whale song heard on most every dive, lots of topside encounters, and underwater encounters as well. 

Of course, these two animals are among the largest in the sea, one fish, one mammal.  


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