I Swim With The Gentle Giants

Beto doing an orientation on the whale shark tourI’ve been told that I have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. I’m a Cabo Expeditions guide. And I swim with whale sharks.

Exciting? Yes. But dangerous? Not at all.

These whale sharks may look scary at 30-feet long, but they’re actually gentle giants. You see, every week I do online research on these beautiful creatures to prepare for a new tour. That’s how I learned that they’re filter feeders. So swimming near them poses no risk to divers or snorkelers.

whale shark coupleI remember once taking a young group on our Swimming with Whale Sharks tour. I was up by 6:00 a.m., like I usually am on a whale shark day. But they were up even earlier. They were too excited! Good thing we immediately saw two whale sharks when we reached the observation area. One was 9-feet long, the other was a full 20-footer. I jumped in and showed them how to approach these docile creatures. That moment for them was unforgettable. They said it was their first time to swim with anything that big and that peaceful!

An older woman on the tour said swimming with the whale sharks was on her bucket list. She was almost teary-eyed when she thanked me for finally making a huge dream come true.

underwater school busBut sometimes, things don’t work out as planner. On one tour, I readied the equipment the day before as always, we set sail at our usual time, but after circling for an hour —we still hadn’t spotted anything. That’s how it is when tours happen in the wild. Our tours are right in the whale sharks’ natural habitat. But, even during the best season, it’s still the whale sharks’ decision whether they want to make an appearance or not.

Everyone on the boat was starting to get frustrated. I was disappointed myself. As a guide, I always want my guests to come home with an amazing whale shark story to tell their friends and families. But it looked like that wasn’t happening that day.

peek-a-boo whale sharkAnd that was when three gigantic whale sharks popped out of the water! The captain immediately stopped the boat and we got ready to swim with them. Later on, the guests said those 40 minutes in the water —alongside the biggest fish in the world— had been absolutely magical. It’s true. I do this all the time and it still amazes me!

I guess that’s the exciting part about my job. Sharing my whale shark experience with the guests and seeing their own experience move them. I do what I love doing, and I love sharing it with others. Up to now, I keep in touch with some of them through Facebook or by email. As soon as they ask when the next whale shark tour is going to be, I know I’ve done a good job.

Biodiversity: Mexico’s Way of Life

Danzante Island, Baja California SurMexico is no stranger to biodiversity. Conservation, preservation, and awareness of the importance of safeguarding the environment have long been championed in this region even before biodiversity became a byword for every nature protection cause.

It is more than an advocacy. For Mexico, it is a way of life. After all, Mexico has always been one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world. Between 10 to 12% of the planet’s species are found in its territory, totaling to more than 200 thousand species. It has always lived to share its wealth with flora and fauna.

With this bountiful gift of nature, it’s only natural for Mexico to take the responsibility of biodiversity quite seriously. In fact, it has 17 million hectares of natural protected areas.

Humpback whales blowing in the sunsetCabo San Lucas Bay – One of the world’s deepest bays has one of the richest ecological communities. The reef fish and marine flora is joined by the majestic sighting of the humpback and gray whales from December to early April each year. This, on top of frequent encounters with orcas, dolphins and pilot whales. This, over and above witnessing marlins, sailfish, swordfish, dorados, roosterfish, and tarpons co-existing in perfect harmony.

Flight of the vultureSierra de la Laguna – Between the municipalities of La Paz and Los Cabos, there’s a mountain range in the middle of the desert where you can find the only dry jungle of the entire peninsula. The only pine-oak forest throughout the peninsula’s southern half. The only forest with around 70 plant species –15% of which are endemic.

Among the glory of fauna, the reserve is also home to woodpeckers, quails, hummingbirds, white-winged doves, hawks, owls, deer, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, bobcats, mountain lions, gray foxes, over 40 species of reptiles and almost 100 different insects.

Night dive in the Sea of CortezCabo Pulmo Marine National Park – The 25-thousand year old, 3-kilometer long and 2-kilometer wide only living coral reef in the Americas resides here. It is earth’s most valuable underwater treasure. Its 7,000-hectare stretch serves as the natural habitat for 100 species of fish, 40 species of algae and sea fans, as well as pelagic species like the bull, tiger, blacktip sharks.

“Friends of Cabo Pulmo,” an assocoation here, promotes ecotourism in order to keep the park’s flora and fauna safe.

Whale shark in La PazBay of La Paz – One of the most biodiverse marine areas in the state and all throughout Latin America, the Bay of La Paz looks after its whale sharks. Nearby, in the island archipelago of Espiritu Santo, a sea lion rookery is also given much attention.

Likewise, the undersea wrecks “Salvatierra,” “Lapas 03,” and “Fang Ming” —fully covered in corals and other wonderful, colorful organisms— are kept safe.

Blue whale in LoretoLoreto Marine National Park – Within Loreto Marine National Park’s 200-hectare boundaries live 30 species of marine mammals, a host of endemic reptiles, amphibians, and birds. In the sea below, the marine life is even more overwhelming. Sportfish such as the dorado, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, roosterfish, grouper, sea bass, and snappers. Bivalves and crustaceans such as oysters, octopus, chocolate clams, scallops, shrimp, crabs, and lobsters.

Even the guests that drop by a few times a year —manta rays, dolphins, sharks, killer whales, pilot whales and even blue whales— make this natural protected area worth protecting.

Gray Whale underwaterLagoons of Magdalena Bay – Magdalena Bay is preserved for its complex natural architecture. In this bay, two big currents converge: cold water that comes from Alaska, and warm, tropical water from the south. Together, these streams generate large amounts of nutrients that attract species such as squid, crab, shrimp, sea bass, red snapper, yellowtail, yellowfin tuna, sardines and others like flounder as well as several species of birds, turtles, sharks of various kinds, rays and, of course, gray, blue and finback whales.

El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve – With over 2.5 million hectares, El Vizcaino ranks as one of the largest biospehere reserves in the world. It has a vast collection of ecosystems —from extremely arid land to mangroves, lagoons and wetlands of high ecological value. It has gray whale sanctuaries. It cares for a wide variety of birds: the osprey, the collared goose, the northern pintail, the red heron, and the swallow, to name a few. Even endangered species have found a haven here: the golden eagle, the white-headed eagle, the peregrine falcon, the white-tailed deer, and the bighorn sheep.

MangrovesIt’s good to know that more and more organizations and nations are taking notice of the significance of biodiversity. It’s better to know that before everyone else, Mexico has started the quest. And continues to live the quest as a natural way of life. With its experience and expertise, the world is assured that biodiversity is here to stay.