Report: Wetpixel Whale Sharks 2019 part 2

We bade fond farewells to our first group and welcomed the second to Isla Mujeres for more amazing whale shark action! Martin, Nancy, Peter, Janet, Marc, and Martina traveled down to join in the fun, with Silvina and Anneli joining us as our back up team too.

By this stage, we had figured out how to get the best from the week, so we met at 6am on the first morning to discuss the ground rules. Primarily, these revolve around listening to the (highly experienced) boat skippers that we use. The whale sharks see an armada of vessels going out every day, with a huge variety of skill and experience, not only in boat handling but also in terms of locating and interacting with the sharks.

Rogelio Delgado Nova

We have deliberately fostered a long and fruitful relationship with Keen M, and the captains, Rogelio Delgado Novelo and David Ferral are acutely aware of what is needed for our guests to be photographically productive.

That said, we set out from the jetty at around 7:15 and within an hour had found a group of whale sharks. It is easy to fall into the trap of describing interactions with approximately 30 animals as being a bad day. Perhaps this is true at Isla, but elsewhere, such encounters would be considered mind-blowing! However, once everyone had got a few pictures, we steamed over to Contoy Island, and hung out over the reef, before returning to Isla somewhat earlier than planned.

Day 2 was an early start, and we found a dense school of sharks within an hour of leaving the shore. The action was “fast and furious” with multiple sharks all moving in close formation. There were also a few mantas mixed into the crowd. As the other boats started arriving, it became more apparent just how many sharks there were!

The fleet was spread out over several miles, with the sharks being thick throughout. Numbers are hard to determine without an accurate aerial view, but there must have been at least several hundred. Our group was in the “thick” of the action pretty much all day, with memory cards getting full, and batteries being depleted.

The stimulus for this was relatively easy to diagnose, as when we exited the water, we were covered in the fish eggs that the sharks were feeding on. This is the primary reason for the aggregation and simply put, the more eggs, the better the action. Attempts to predict the spawning cycle of the bonito (Sarda sardar) are (in my experience) inexact. It is logical to assume that spawning is coordinated around moon phase, and indeed we were heading towards a full moon, so it was reasonable to expect that the sharks’ numbers and density would increase as we approached the moon phase.

This proved to be an incorrect assumption! While we had lots of sharks on both days, days 3 and 4 were not as memorable as day 2! The weather was super still and warm, with no wind or wave actions; perhaps this did not create surface conditions that pushed the eggs into a dense mass. For emphasis, we saw plenty of sharks on both days, but not in the incredible numbers that we saw on day two.

Isla Mujeres is a stunning island, and we try and give people a flavor of the island. Punta Sur, or South Point, is a stunning vista, with a crazy coastline looking out to either the Caribbean or Cancun.

Day 5 was another early start, and as forecast, heralded a change in the weather. There was some wind and light chop on the surface (in fact, the port was closed two days later), but the whale sharks action was amazing! We even had manta trains at the surface…

There were numerous botellas (vertical feeding behaviors) and crazy situations when they were 5 or 6 sharks, all within eyesight! The action went on all day, with our guests literally being in the water for 4 to 5 hours each! It was amazing and intense.

The whale shark aggregation off Isla Mujeres is a simply fantastic event and one that every underwater image makers should witness and document at least once. The new Mexican government regulations are onerous, but by being proactive, we were able to both satisfy their requirements and still provide stunning photographic opportunities. In the grand scheme of things, the regulations are in place to encourage responsible behavior, which is in the sharks’ best interest.