Seven youngsters age 10-15 became certified scuba divers last week with Captain Slate’s Scuba Adventures in Islamorada. But their final two check-out dives 25 feet deep on the reef were anything …
Diving Thrills with Huge Fish at Guy Harvey Outpost in Mexico
It looks just like a giant, wide-open front-end loader plowing the surface of the Caribbean Sea, except it’s ALIVE. A 15-foot long whale shark — one of hundreds that gather annually from June through mid-September in the waters around Isla Mujeres, Mexico–is sucking up its dinner of plankton as a horde of enthralled snorkelers hovers nearby to watch. The calm, placid giant– broad and brown with white dots– pays them no mind and cruises slowly along, feeding on the spawn of bonitos with its huge dorsal fin sticking up out of the water. A few feet away, a six-foot- wide manta ray joins the buffet line, and the snorkelers’ heads swivel wildly back and forth.
The waters around this small island just off Mexico’s northern Yucatan peninsula are one of very few places in the world where just about anyone can get close-up and personal with the largest fish in the ocean in its natural environment. And captain Anthony Mendillo of Keen M Blue Water Charters is your best choice for tour guide.
One of the region’s pioneering whale shark tour operators, Mendillo zealously protects these charismatic creatures and delights in introducing them to visitors.
“The whale shark dive is so cool because the whole family can enjoy it,” he said. “Children can go. You don’t have to be a professional diver or a professional naturalist to appreciate the magnitude of the experience.”
Indeed, the Mexican government prohibits scuba diving with the whale shark aggregation; only mask, snorkel and fins are allowed. Visitors are not permitted to touch the animals or use flash photography.
Although the 2015 whale shark season has wound down, Isla Mujeres and Keen M offer other unique topwater and underwater opportunities: snorkeling with sailfish and cage-diving with mako sharks.
From January through early March, Keen M boats escort their customers to the catch-and release of up to 50 sailfish per day on rod-and-reel by homing in on seabirds diving on schools of sardines that form tight bait balls. After everyone’s arms are worn out from reeling in sails and letting them go, it’s time to jump in and check out the spindlebeaks’ living room.
“I have people who catch a double and now they’re down there in their underwear ready to jump in,” Mendillo said. “It’s a very happy medium when a guest can say, ‘I saw a sailfish eat a sardine; now I know how to hook them.'”
The occasional wahoo has been known to join the sails in crashing the bait balls, adding to the excitement.
For the extremely adventurous, Keen M offers cage-diving with mako sharks that cruise the region in March and April. If you go, you just may spot a mako sporting hardware on its dorsal fin. That’s because Guy Harvey and colleagues from Nova Southeastern University Oceanographic Center have implanted several with tags to track their movements.
Your headquarters for diving and fishing in Isla Mujeres is the Hotel Playa Media Luna, a Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Lodge. There are plenty of openings for 2016.
Sue Cocking chronicles the Guy Harvey Outpost travel and adventure experience in regular blog posts on GuyHarveyOutpostNews.com/. For 21 years, Cocking covered the full spectrum of outdoors adventure opportunities in South Florida and beyond for the Miami Herald, including fishing, diving, hunting, paddling, camping, sailing and powerboat racing. She is a certified scuba diver and holder of an IGFA women’s world fly fishing record for a 29-pound permit.