We went swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Isla Mujeres this past July, and it was an amazing experience. Two days before I had swam with a dolphin at Xel-Ha, and it was a totally different experience. Swimming with the 17-yr old male dolphin was great fun, but in a controlled environment. We were in a penned lagoon with the dolphin’s trainer. Swimming with the whale sharks was in open water about one hour off the coast, and though we did have a professional diver/guide accompany us, these gentle giants are not trained animals! Not much is known about whale sharks…..they come to Isla Mujeres for only 3 months of the year, June through September, to feed off the plankton and krill. They are solitary, even though there were lots in the area we were diving in. So we jumped in, only two at a time with our guide, to swim alongside the shark. Most were about 25-30 feet long–approximately the size of a school bus! The whale sharks could care less about humans–they glide along very close to the surface, keeping their giant mouths open to filter all the plankton. They look like giant catfish, but make no mistake that they are sharks, as their dorsal fins cut through the blue water. You can get so close to them that you can almost touch them, and you have to make sure to stay out of the way of their huge swishing tail. A real sea safari experience I heartily recommend!
Swimming with dolphins is on everyone’s bucket list, isn’t it? We had the opportunity to swim with a 17 year old male rescue dolphin named Kaleche at Xel-Ha, and it lived up to all our expectations, and more.
We were a small group–only 6 people total–with a trainer and the dolphin. At first, the trainer had Kaleche just swim around us to get used to our group. Then we were taught several hand signals that Kaleche understands, and before we knew it he was playing ‘Ring around the Rosie’ and splashing us.
The highlight for most was swimming with Kaleche while holding his dorsal fin, as you can Chelsea doing in the picture above. We each got about a 10 yard ride, after which we gave the hand signal and Kaleche actually “stood up” and gave us his side fins to “dance” with. One more hand signal, and he very gently gave us a peck on the cheek.
The trainer told us that dolphins enjoy physical contact ( just not around their face), and Kaleche certainly seemed to. His skin was very smooth, not rough as I expected. I was surprised at how fast and gracefully he swam, with hardly any motion. It is easy to see why everyone loves dolphins!