Whale Shark - Manta Ray - Snorkel Expedition

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Manta & Whale Shark Snorkel Expedition

Whale sharks are magical looking animals, covered with the stars of a moonless night sky. Manta glide in an underwater ballet, wings outstretched like angels of the sea. I've been studiying these amazing marine animals since 1995, firstly in Western Australia and then since 2005 in Mexico's Yucatan. Our tiny island home for this expedition is off of the Yucatan Peninsula and is a protected site of the Yum Balam ecological reserve.  Here we can snorkel in warm tropical waters surrounded by friendly whale shark and manta ray. We are teamed up with the guys that started the protection for the whale shark, manta, turtle, and dolphin that were hunted here until quite recently. Any images we donate with identifying marks or scars on the animals can help local programs identify and protect the animals.  We still have spaces left August 6th-12th 2017 - email: WildOceanAdventures@hotmail.com
 

MANTA RAY - Manta birostris

Manta Ray Manta birostris, can grow up to 6.7m (22ft). They are not fish or mammals, but are a member of the shark family, just like whale sharks.  I recognise a number of the friendly manta in this area on sight, as I've been studing this particular group of manta since 2005.  To swim next to one of these awesome beings from the deep ocean is an incredible experience. We get really close encounters, that exceed even my expectations, and that's a pretty tall order!

Whale shark and manta ray are filter feeders, feeding on zooplankton, small fish and squid. A whale sharks mouth (2-3m/6-9ft wide) can engulf huge volumes of water which is filtered by a sieve-like structure inside the five pairs of gill slits on the sides of the head. Large numbers of manta ray and whale sharks gather at various places, at specific times each year, to feed on rich plankton concentrations, attended by their pilot fish and remora. In 2005-2008 we were seeing whale shark and manta spread out as single or two to three animals in small groups in greener water. 2009-2012 we were seeing 50-80 whale sharks all feeding together in a group in beautiful blue water.  In 2013 we were seeing groups of 30-40 manta ray together with 40 or more whale sharks. In 2014 over 100 manta ray in with the whale sharks, but less whale sharks.  And in 2015 we saw around  30 manta had returned to the greener water, along with 20 or more whale sharks. Fewer whale sharks and manta were in the blue waters than in previous years. In nature everything changes, we never know what we will see from year to year.

As with any wildlife expedition there is never any guarantee from mother nature, so times and length of encounters are up to the animals.  That's why we go out multiple days in the areas with the most whale shark and manta, so we really do get the best encounters possible. We are so grateful to have had such amazing success on every expedition since 2005. Our average days are filled with long encounters. This is the most predictable place in the world to see these animals, and I always charter the boat at the absolute best time of the year for encounters and lots of anaimals.  I restrict the number of guests on our boat to just seven, this is to protect the sharks, and enable us to get awesome encounters.  Just three people are permitted to snorkel with each whale shark, this makes for outstanding photo opportunities and hours and hours of enounters.

When you are not out on the boat, this is an ideal destination for relaxation.  The hotel has everything you might need, nestled amongst palm trees on it's own beautiful white sandy beach. The island also offers an excellent choice of activities such as kite boarding, horse riding, kayaking in the mangroves, or flamingo island tours, while still retaining it's sleepy little village feel. The little village square has some interesting craft stores, and has a very relaxed and safe, atmoshphere.  Roads are made of natural sand, this is a very simple place, uncomplicated, friendly, and welcoming. It's a place where you can just swing in a hammock, with a fresh mint leaf mojito, and watch the world go by.

 

 

There are lots of bottlenose dolphins in this area. Until just a few years ago, before the protection of the reserve, the dolphins were a target for fishermen to be used as bull shark bait. Whale sharks were also hunted for their fins here. I started my anual expeditions the first year the protection was in place. When joining me you can be assured you are going with the experts, and people who genuinly care about the animals, and are working to protect the animals.

We LOVE sharks... Without sharks in our oceans our planet would loose its balance.

For full expedition itinerary and cost, please e-mail WildOceanAdventures@hotmail.com

WHALE SHARK - Rhincodon typus

It's not a whale, it's a shark. Like baleen whales these huge sharks are plankton eaters, and do not have teeth. Whale sharks are the largest shark on earth. They can attain a length of 18m (60ft) or more, and weigh up to 34 tons.  In comparison, a big elephant weighs up to 6 tons. Whale sharks have a very distinctive coloration with the dorsal surface covered with white spots and stripes.

We go out to snorkel with these amazing animals each day for three days, after an early breakfast.  Whale sharks and manta are wild animals, and so it's always best to have a few days to give us the best chances for seeing the animals. Later in the afternoon when the plankton go deep, so do the sharks and the manta ray, so mornings are the best time to see them.  We use the rest of our afternoon to explore other areas like turtle reef, where we see pretty tropical fish, nurse shark and turtles.  The mangroves are also a great place to explore at high tide, with tiny glass minnow, and hundreds of tropical birds. We see lots of bottlenose dolphin, and if we are really lucky schools of golden cow nose rays or mobulla ray or even sailfish. At night expectant mother turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the soft warm sand, close to our beach front hotel.

We get the best chance's to see manta and whale shark as we charter the best, safest and fastest boat in the area.  We are able to travel fast between Isla Holbox, Cabo Catoche, Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres depending on which area has the best weather, visability, and number of animals each day.  Our informative guide and captain are great at putting us in the right position to get the absolute best encounters possible. We also get a good education of the area. We are out with the professionals, these guys are the best at what they do.

Cancun is our group meeting point as it is an easy airport for most to get to (Cancun International Airport). We then travel 2 hours in our air conditioned taxi van, then half hour on the island ferry, and island taxi, to reach our pretty island hotel. The taxi van journey is air conditioned, and very comfortable. We have a great driver, and we can take photos as we pass through the pretty towns and villages of the northern Yucatan. We also pass through wilderness areas which still have wild jaguar, although they are rare. Comfort stops will be made on the journey, and a short visit to the amazing ancient Mayan tree of life and some mayan pyramids that are yet to be excavated makes the journey very special. 

In recent years some captains without permits have been bringing tourists and invading the protected whale shark areas. Photographic study groups in Mexico, are using our images to help local campaigns to prevent rogue boats coming into the protected areas. This is helping prevent injury to whale shark, manta ray, golden cow nose ray, mobula rays, bottlenose dolphin, and six species of sea turtle who nest on the beach we stay on. Our daily permit fees (included in the expedition cost) go to the preserve, and toward helping protect the animals. I am also working on an educational documentary, using footage from expeditions, to help protect them further. By joining us on this expedition you are helping preserve the area, and protect the animals in a variety of different ways, while experiencing them up close in their own natural habitat.

I have travelled extensively in Mexico, and all over the Yucatan peninsula.  If you want to spend extra time in this area it's easy to add Chichen Itza, Ek Balam Mayan ruins or even the pretty underground Cenote swimming holes on the final day of your expedition.  Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum,  scuba diving cenotes, or Cozumel can also be seen if you have a few extra days.

This is what it looks like in peak whale shark season, plenty of sharks for everyone. Cool