Swim with Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres Private Charter with Gregory Sweeney Photography

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Swim with Whale Sharks & Giant Mantas

Small Group of 7 on a Private Charter in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Photograph hundreds of whale sharks and giant mantas in the warm blue water off the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula as they feed and ather in the largest aggregation in the world. Photographer Gregory Sweeney is your escort for this photography tour on our private 36ft charter that leaves daily from the docks of Isla Mujeres. We stay all day snorkeling with whale sharks for maximum time in the water photographing and enjoying this incredible encounter. The whale sharks feed at the surface making the photo opportunities spectacular and easy. Only snorkeling gear is required. As we are in blue water, visits by other pelagic species such as sailfish and manta rays are possible. Limited to 6 guests only. This is a NON SCUBA and suitable for those who are comfortable with a snorkel in open water.

Trip Details

*Payment & Cancellation Policies



Where: Isla Mujeres and the Gulf of Mexico
Participants: Limited to 7
Encounters: 4 days on a private charter leaving from Isla Mujeres early morning and returning late afternoon (complying with regulations). Each day will be spend locating and swimming with whale sharks or Mantas and moving with the aggregation.

August 6 - 11 2019 - Sold Out

July 12 - 17, July 17 - 22, July 22- 27 2020 - now booking

Map of Cancun and Gulf Of Mexico
link to Whale Shark Blog Posts
link to Whale Shark Gallery
Swim with Whale sharks swim with giant manta rays

Trip Fee Includes:

Does not Include

Travel Planning

Guests should arrange to fly into Cancun airport (CUN)

Guests will take taxi and travel the ½ - 1 hr drive to ferry

Ferry to Isla Mujeres departs on the ½ hr then hourly in the evening until 9pm takes (about 20 minutes ride)

Guests should arrange to depart CUN at the end of the trip no earlier than mid morning allowing time for the ferry and taxi ride. If this is not possible guests should consider staying an extra day so as not to miss any time on the boat. Boat returns to dock around 3:30 each day.


A typical day begins when we depart at 7am sharp. It only takes a few minutes to walk to the wharf or we use the golfcart to carry our stuff. If the whale sharks are aggregating in a consistent location, we are hopefully in the water by 8am. Chances are there will be many whale sharks in the area and you can have many encounters in one place in a short time frame.

The water is very warm but a wetsuit is required. We recommend a thin shorty or full (3mm or less). Be prepared to do alot of swimming and bring mask, fins, and snorkel. Bring plenty of sun lotion with high SP. Long fins or closed heel fins are recommended

This trip is designed for photographers and those that love marine life. We make every effort to share the best encounters during this trip, but we are dealing with nature and there are no guarantees of animal encounters and no guarantees (or refunds) in regards to the weather. We have encountered whale sharks on each day of our trips for all the years we have offered this trip, but it is possible to not be able to locate the animals or they may stay deep for a day. We have encountered manta rays frequently in the last years at least once durring the trips, but they are not guaranteed.

Trip Log

Trip Log: Swimming with Whale Sharks by Gregory Sweeney

Not long ago, boat captains discovered the annual aggregation of hundreds of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) off the coast of Isla Mujeres, a tiny little island off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. I have been sharing this great event with guests and underwater photography for many years now and still find it a thrill and a grand opportunity for close up wildlife encounters. The whale sharks arrive in large numbers every summer to feed on the abundant supply of plankton and bonito eggs. For me it was an incredible experience to be in the warm blue water with these beautiful and graceful creatures. On several peak days hundred whale sharks would congregate in the space of a couple soccer fields. I have photographed whale sharks in locations around the world (Honduras, Mozambique, Western Australia), but never had the experience of being in the water with such a large aggregation and the large individuals who seemed unfazed by my presence. This year was another great year with numerous whale sharks and some giant mantas.

Swimming with Whale Sharks

Our boats leave from Isla Mujeres, just a short walk or golf cart ride from our beachfront hotel. The 10 passenger boats are comfortable for our groups of 6 or 7 and they are fast, provide shade and storage, and smooth while cruising. Our boat captain and crew were excellent at finding whale sharks each day, sometimes just a short 40 minute boat ride. Sandwiches and snacks are on the boat with us so we are set to spend most of the day at sea. Regulations require we depart the whale sharks after 2pm, but this gives us plenty of time to enjoy our swimming. After long day on the water we would head back to Isla Mujeres but not before eating some ceviche freshly prepared while we were busy with the whale sharks. Once back at the hotel, we have a relaxing time in the hotel pool , a cleanup and download , and a delicious dinner out in town at one of many great restauants.

Highlights from Our Trip

whale shark feeding whale shark topside
our whale shark guests manta ray dives down

I schedule our trips in early July at the peak of season. The weather was great with smooth water, great visibility and hundreds of whale sharks which were easy to find each day. For both our first and second week of guests, the water was clear and flat. Not even one day of bad weather or cloudy water! Very special.

On our second day, myself and crew a found schools of mantas. There were no whale sharks in the area, just the mantas. Like most days, we had this encounter to ourselves with no other boats near us. The mantas did their ballet of loops and plunges before moving off out of our range. It was time to return to shore so we came home very happy and content.

With the clear water each day, I tried some deeper dives, shooting up at the whale shark or manta. The result was a nice deep blue with a sharp, clear image of the whale shark presenting a contrasting foreground of white and light grey. I also like to photograph the feeding motion of the mounth from a 3/4 profile angle. The idea here is to capture the turbulance of the water as it flows into the mouth.


Photography Gear

I use a Canon 5D MKIII in an Nexus housing for my underwater work. It is full frame and I like the quality video capabilities - I edited some videos together into a compolation video. Due to the size of the whale sharks I am using a Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye lens. I looked at my shooting data in Lightroom from the full 2 weeks of whale shark swimming and most of the images fall into the below settings ranges.

Typical Settings Using full Manual Mode

ISO 500 or 640
Aperture f10 - f14
Shutter Speed 1/250 sec
our boat for swimming with whale sharks ceviche served on the boat

Guests Dancing with the Whales Sharks and Giant Mantas

photographing whale sharks guest swims with whale shark
guest photographs manta ray

Back at the hotel we would relax at the pool for a while. One afternoon we tool the golf cart to the opposite end of the island where they have a zipline, a scenic park, and iguanas. There are many shops to pick up snacks and drinks. Each night we had a delicious meal at restaurants ranging from Mexican tacos to pizza, mediterranean, and cuban. After our 4 days on the whale shark boat, some of the guests returned to Cancun and did scuba dives in the Mayan cenotes and toured some of the ruins.

Swimming in this aggregation in the Gulf of Mexico was not like other times I have encountered whale sharks in other waters: we would hold in an area where there were 4 -5 visible then wait until they passed close and get in the water with them. They did not seem too agitated by our presence or the splash of our fins. I could swim along side one of them for a while then if they got ahead of me often they would turn and come back toward me. Waiting in one spot in the water often would put me in a good position to encounter another individual. We stayed in the water for hours at a time. Occasionally we would move the boat to keep up with the movements of the aggregation.

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea (5.5 to 10 meters and 20.6 tons average) and although massive in size, they are docile and fortunately for us they favor plankton over other food. As a filter feeder it has a capacious mouth, which can be up to 1.6 meters wide and can contain 310 to 360 rows of tiny teeth. The many rows of teeth play no role in feeding. Instead, the shark sucks in a mouthful of water, closes its mouth and expels the water through its 5 pairs of gills. During the slight delay between closing the mouth and opening the gill flaps, plankton is trapped against the dermal denticles which line its gill plates and pharynx. This sieve-like apparatus prevents the passage of anything but fluid out through the gills, trapping anything above 2 to 3 millimeters in diameter.

It is believed that they reach sexual maturity at around 30 years and their life span is an estimated 70 to 100+ years. A pregnant female whale shark can carry up to 300 pups 35 to 65 cm long which she gives birth to live. The spots on a whale shark's back are unique to each individual and can be used as a form of ID. In much of Latin America the whale shark is known as "pez dama" or "domino" for its distinctive spot pattern. In Africa it is known as "papa shillingi" from the Kenyan myth that God threw shillings upon the shark, which now has spots.

relax on the beach after whale sharks fishing boats
typical building in Isla Mujeres Mexico guest with mayan statue
Gallery of Photo Safari Images

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