Planet Earth's largest fish
Being eye to eye with the biggest fish on Planet Earth is scary. But this magnificent encounter is life changing. All you need is a snorkel and courage.
Whale sharks congregate offshore Cancun, Mexico from May-September. They dine on a buffet of fish eggs and plankton.
Whale sharks are light grey, white spotted and often grow to be 40 feet long. Scientists have tracked them living at depths of up to 2,300-feet.
Off Cancun Mexico, we hop into a tiny fishing boat with guides from Solo Buceo Dive Adventures. Cruising along the 420-mile Mayan Reef, we're hoping to encounter whale sharks, the largest fish on Planet Earth.
"Ready for a whale shark party?" asks our guide, Martha Aguilar. "The ocean's a buffet of fish eggs and plankton, their favorite food. Keep your eyes open, amigas."
Adventure is not a theme park; you can't buy a ticket to fun. The placid sea churns into nasty waves. The sky crumples dark. For hours we roller coast the concrete ocean. Smiles fade.
I throw up last night's dinner and this morning's Dramamine.
Why didn't we just sleep off our margaritas and go for pancakes, like normal folks?
Because we're feral. We'll suffer for encounters with giant fish. We're almost there. Where is there?
Our boat belches stinking gas fumes, then stops in the middle of nowhere, bobbing in a dark empty Caribbean. Seriously seasick, I pray for death.
Monsters of the deep rise up, surrounding our boat. These fish are 40 freakin' feet long. Mouths the size of a dining room table. Scientists have tracked whale sharks swimming at 2300-foot depths, journeying thousands of miles around our globe.
One peripatetic beast swam 8,000 miles from Mexico to the Tonga Archipelago, east of Australia. I thought I had wanderlust.
"Why are these fish here in Cancun?" I ask Martha.
"Delicious food, and they love our warm waters. From May through September, they birth their babies, preparing for long journeys ahead.
Where they'll go next, who knows?"
I strap on my mask and snorkel. Grab my underwater camera. Fall overboard into the school of massive whale sharks.
Eye to eye with a dozen of the biggest fish on Planet Earth is scary as hell.
Ok, I'm afraid of a monster fish swallowing me like Jonah, or knocking me unconscious with her mighty tail.
Whale sharks are fish: they eat plankton, not people.
But oh my god, when one swims at me open mouthed, I prepare to die, sushi in a bikini.
Lucky me: I'm in the open ocean with mega magnificent forty-foot long fish.
This is gobsmacking life changing.
After our uber exciting snorkel, we hurl ourselves back into our rocking boat. Bedraggled, exhausted, exhilarated.
Back home in Mount Pleasant, shopping at the grocery store, making dinner before the news, I'm walking around with a secret.
From that once in a lifetime adventure, my heart is full of whale sharks.
When the biggest fish on Planet Earth leave Cancun for their global journeys, a part of me will go with them. Where they'll go next, nobody knows.