Fall Means Whale Shark Season in Mexico

Baja California’s warm waters attract the gentle giant fish and adventurous tourists, who are willing to swim with them.

People aren’t the only creatures to love Baja California’s warm waters in the fall. The world’s largest fish, the whale shark, also favors the area. Whale sharks prefer warm water and while they migrate each spring to the continental shelf of the central west coast of Australia, come autumn, many are found in the Bay of La Paz in Baja’s southern state of Baja California Sur.

Among Giants

Not much is known about why whale sharks do what they do, though several scientific groups, such as the Shark Research Institute, are studying their habits in an effort to learn more about them.

The giant filter feeder eats plankton, krill and algae by scooping up the tiny plants and animals while swimming close to the water’s surface. This makes for an irresistible chance to dive or snorkel with the massive (up to 60 tons) but docile fish, which have white or yellow “polka dots” on their backs. The only real danger they pose is if you get too close to their tails (or their giant jaws), but their reputation is one of calm tolerance of humans.

The sharks’ fall migration has spurred outfitters to offer programs featuring the “gentle giants,” as divers call them. We found two with appealing programs for those who want to see these creatures close up:

Baja Quest (www.bajaquest.com.mx), an outfit of professional scuba divers and others who focus on ocean adventures, offers a variety of scuba diving programs. Options include daily dives, live-aboard trips, diving safaris and snorkeling trips. Its Whale Shark Adventure costs $50 to $75 an hour for a spotter plane (depending on how many divers share the cost), plus the dive trip price that you picked. Once the plane spots the sharks, assuming it does, you follow in a boat. While divers can swim with the sharks, you can do so only if they’re not feeding. A maximum of 10 divers is allowed and a minimum of five is needed to hire the plane.

Baja AirVentures (www.bajaairventures.com) offers a six-day, all-inclusive program, with flights, in September and October to swim with whale sharks. You’ll fly from San Diego to the Las Animas Wilderness Retreat in Baja, an eco-lodge that has eight beachside yurts. You won’t really be roughing it though—your yurt has a bathroom, solar shower, comfy beds and covered patios with hammocks. All meals and activities are included. Count on about five hours daily spending time in the water to see and swim with whale sharks and other creatures of the deep. Keep in mind that, though it is most likely you’ll see whale sharks, like anything in nature, there’s no guarantee. The package is $1,895 (not including a 10 percent Mexican Government IVA tax). 

Destinations: Estado de Baja California, Estado de Baja California Sur, Mexico

Themes: Outdoor Adventures

Activities: Scuba Diving, Snorkeling