SCUBA IN CUBA WHALE SHARK
CUBA WHALE SHARK ENCOUNTER
Few things are as exciting and amazing as being able to touch, photograph, and swim with a whale shark! The beauty of the ocean’s largest fish is spectacular, and in Cuba we are fortunate enough to enjoy the company of this friendly and docile shark during the winter months, beginning in early November. Whale sharks can reach lengths of up to twenty meters, and they can be observed around Cuba’s waters in pursuit of plankton, their principal food source. They can be spotted on Cuba’s southern coast around the Bay of Pigs, and the town of Cienfuegos, and on the northern coast they can be seen in the ocean just north of Havana.
During my almost forty years of SCUBA diving, I have had the great pleasure of swimming with whale sharks on several occasions in Cuban waters, and can attest to the unbelievable beauty and grace of these creatures. The last of these encounters occurred off the Bay of Pigs, where the continental shelf does not extend much further than one hundred meters from the shoreline. In certain areas, there are forty and fifty meter drop offs, and in others the shelf just disappears at the vertical wall that extends into the dark abyss. This last encounter occurred while diving with a visiting American doctor who was in Cuba on a professional interchange at Havana’s Gonzalez Coro Obstetrics Hospital. Forty minutes into our first immersion we were making a safety stop at twenty-five meters, right over a coral reef, when we noticed a large shadow above us. My first thought was that it was large boat, which was drifting above us, however, when I looked up I realized we were right under a whale shark. The shark appeared to be enjoying the effect of our rising bubbles rolling over his skin, and he stayed immediately over us for several minutes. My dive buddy was initially taken aback by the sight of this giant, his first ever encounter with a whale shark, but after realizing how call the shark was above us he relaxed.
I signaled to the doctor that we should slowly rise towards the shark, and I then signaled to him that we should gently touch him. To the good doctor’s great surprise, it was evident that the whale shark enjoyed the physical contact, and we petted him for several minutes until he began to very slowly swim south, away from the coast. We swam with him until he began to approach a steep drop off, and we watched as he gracefully swam away.
We were fortunate enough to enjoy the company of this creature, the largest fish in the ocean, and one which honored us with the privilege of spending several minutes in his company. I hope to be able to enjoy this experience again some-day, and that they will continue to thrive in the oceans so that others may share the seas in harmony with these gentle giants of the ocean blue!
By Hugo Cabrera