Glover’s Reef, Belize – Swimming with the Whale Sharks!
19 April 2009 | Whale Shark, Picture by Chelsea Tolppanen
On Saturday at 2 AM we decided to leave for one of the two famous Belize's Coral Atolls, Glover's Reef, as it was on the way to Belize City where we could get help from a well known alternator expert. Our batteries were to be charged with our engine and/or the portable Honda 2000 generator we had bought in Panama City. We arrived to a gorgeous anchorage, deployed our dingy and went ashore to a resort that had a dive shop and from where dive trips to see the whale sharks were offered. After meeting the resort owner/master diver we learned that he had a whale shark trip scheduled for early afternoon that same day and had some room for 3 snorkelers. Unfortunately we were 5 with our friends Lynne & Paul from Beaudacious who insisted we take the trip and not them. This was too us one of our most memorable experiences among all of our Caribbean sailing events. Fortunately, a Canadian family from Calgary, Alberta we met had a water proof camera and their daughter Chelsea took great pictures of this event which they have kindly given us permission to post in our Gallery of Pictures. Also, Daniel wrote an essay about this trip, posted below. Seeing a Whale Shark off Belize's Great Barrier Reef
By Daniel Cunningham
Whenever I see a dive boat it reminds me of the first time I went to see whale sharks that were apparently feasting on the eggs of spawning Dog Snappers -- but why? It's because when we were in Glover's reef I wanted to go diving and the only dive that day was a dive to see the whale sharks. The dive site was 15 miles away from the dive shop. It was $100 per person to snorkel and $175 per person to scuba dive. Either way, it was expensive. The dive master gave us a deal though: $65 dollars per person for snorkeling, if we had our own gear, which we did. So we decided to go! Unfortunately we were traveling with friends who were on another sailboat. [By the way, did I mention that I'm on a sailboat and we've been travelling throughout the Caribbean? Now we're on our way back to the US by way of Central America and Mexico.] The unfortunate part was that there were only three spaces left on the dive boat and our friends insisted that we go. Eventually we said "fine, we'll go!" By then the boat was about to leave so we said goodbye and got on and left.
The ride to the site was okay but I got drenched from the spray the boat made rushing through the water, which wasn't too pleasant by the end of the 30 minute ride. When we finally got to the site, called Gladden Spit, we had to wait about 10 minutes for some reason --something about waiting for another power boat that was there to dive in the area. Finally, for what seemed like ages, the dive master started up the engines and we went to a spot outside the Great Barrier Reef of Belize.
To tell you the truth, I've always been scared of falling into the water when underway and getting eaten by a shark. I'm telling you that so you can get an idea of how scared I was when I entered the water from the boat. Even though I was with 12 other people I was scared like heck. But I soon calmed down when I realized that there was nothing to see down in the crystal clear water for about half a mile -- not even a fish! That was also a bad sign because the chances of seeing a whale shark when there are no snapper fish to eat is less than 20% -- I think. About 5 minutes in the water we saw one of those little sucker sharks that stick to sharks. We also saw turtles and about 40 minutes later we saw some Jacks. But then we had to get out of the water for 1 hour along with the divers, who had to decompress before their second dive. My parents and I were snorkeling at the surface, so we didn't have to decompress. The divers needed to decompress because the deeper you go the more nitrogen becomes dissolved in one's blood. If you gain too much dissolved nitrogen you can get decompression sickness as you ascend and can even die. Therefore, what you do is decompress by resting at the surface so that your nitrogen level goes down. The rest spot was inside the reef where we picked up a mooring buoy. This area is all a marine park and there are park rangers who came and collected fees for the park.
An hour later we were heading back out for our second snorkel and this time the divers went in first. They took off like bullets before the snorkelers got in the water. The first thing I saw when I hit the water was the biggest school of fish I have ever seen. They were Dog Snappers which is one of the fish that the Whale Sharks follow so that they can eat the eggs produced in spawning.
We decided to follow this huge school and were rewarded by the sight of 3 playful dolphins who were trying to eat the snappers. We kept on following the school of snappers and sometime in the middle of the swim I saw a jelly fish. And an instant later a turtle swam by and I managed to get my mom to see it before it was gone. Then a guy named Dave (who could free dive down to 75 feet!) shouted WHALE SHARK, WHALE SHARK!!!!!!! I was so excited I blasted off and what I saw before my eyes was incredible! A beautiful big fish, at least 15 feet long and it was covered in white dots like an eagle ray. It did a few turns and then it swam away. What a great experience it was to see it: not a whale but a whale of a shark and the biggest fish in the ocean!
It was time to go by then, so we got onto the boat (which was, by the way, extremely hard to do because of the waves) and we all started talking about our experiences. When the divers got on they were so ticked off because they hadn't seen anything. After all, they had paid a lot and the whale sharks were supposed to be attracted to their tanks' air bubbles. We started the long trip back going into the waves, and that is when all hell broke loose. It was so bumpy that it left my butt numbed. For some reason I was laughing my head off while everyone else looked like they were going to throw up (except my Mom and Dad, of course). By the time we got back to the dive shop I had a big bruise on my butt. We washed our gear, put it in our dingy, and went back to our boat.
Now, whenever I see a dive boat, I'm reminded of my first trip to the see whale sharks. Even though we only saw one shark that one was a great privilege and something I will remember for the rest of my life.