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A special encounter with the giant whale shark. Promise kept!

Jardines de La Reina, Cuba. A week of November. We go in the speed boat with captain "Ramon" burning our eyes in the horizon. Ramon using his full power to find things away in the water surface, power which is a common gift shared by all the old sea men from Jucaro Town, South from Ciego de Avila.

We are looking for the giant whale shark with a mixture of hope and fear. Why fear? I always feel nervous about not accomplishing what I promised, and that particular day I promised the group that definitely we would see the shark.

I could smell it in the air! Even with the certainty of the right month, moon phase and weather, and my experience as a dive master so many years exploring these waters, I can never be sure of any encounter, as animal behavior in the sea depends on so many factors and it is so complicated. I should never do such a promise, but I did, and it was an amazing day for all of us.

After a while everybody stopped talking and we were almost about going back to Tortuga Hotel with nothing else than many "mojitos" in our minds. At that time, we found ourselves a mile offshore of the place we call "El Peruano". Suddenly I see boiling water and birds around 500 meters away from us and Ramon turns the wheel immediately to the south.

We saw a huge group of Bonito, fish that feeds frenetically on the huge aggregation of baitfish that comes near the shore in the months of October, November and December, in Jardines de La Reina.

And there it goes, the sea is flat calm as a lake. It is impressive to see thousands of jumping fish, many birds, sharks, jacks, all feeding on the baitfish and… suddenly something happens under our boat in the beautiful blue crystal water, silently going across without touching us. A giant fish seeming a big school bus full of dark spots passes without making any noise, any water movement, elegantly moving its giant body. Making our diving boat seem so small! Making us think about the mysteries of life, about being so fortunate to witness this unique moment, to meet this fabulous creature from such a close distance is such a gift that not many people have.

I grabbed mask and snorkel and screamed with all my energy to the rest of the group: JUUUMP! Everybody jumps to the water and then we see the majestic animal with a body 11 meters long swimming slowly away. Giving us a quick snapshot of its whole body and then the huge caudal fin. At that moment I thought it was leaving and not coming back as it use to happen most of the time, I tell to myself ”we saw it, we saw it all, and now is leaving…” But for my surprise the shark turns around and comes straight to the group, some people had even to get out of the giant’s way.

From that moment on, it was magical. I have no words to describe it. The shark, as if it was an old friend, seemed to enjoy the presence of the divers and spent 30 minutes playing with us, moving between us, showing us every inch of its huge body without going away.

This was a lifetime experience for the people in the group, for me once again magical, despite I’ve been encountering these animals every year in Jardines de la Reina while I have been working as a diving instructor, these was a special one.

I start to dream about meeting again with my giant friend from last year. This year I will keep my eyes in the horizon after every dive, looking for the friendly whale shark.


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