Whale Shark Expedition
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
August 5-11th, 2017
7 Day / 6 Night Aventure
Join Guy Harvey Outpost and Shark Team One on a citizen science / photo expedition to Isla Mujeres for the Whale Shark Aggregation! Face off with the ocean’s largest fish averaging about 25 feet long and weighing 20 tons. Each year off Isla Mujeres these gentle giants visit from June through mid-September. Swimming with these enormous fish in their natural setting where they can congregate into a group of more than 300 individuals is one of the world’s most amazing wildlife adventures. In addition to the Whale Sharks, snorkelers may also encounter huge manta rays and dolphins that share the waters during the summer months off Isla Mujeres. Perfect for families, photographers, and adventure travelers who not only can cross this off their bucket list, but also help with shark conservation through a citizen science program with Shark Team One.
- Spend five days swimming with majestic and endangered whale sharks on an expedition led by awardwinning conservationist and founder of Shark Team One, Angela Smith
- Engage in conservation efforts with Shark Team One that could help save these sharks from extinction
- Witness multiple whale sharks each day as you photograph the Afuera whale shark aggregation.
- See graceful manta rays feeding as they perform dramatic vertical loops.
- Learn whale shark and manta ray ecology
- Enjoy the art, food and culture of ancient Isla Mujeres
Expedition Dates: August 5-11, 2017
- Standard Lodging Package Double Occupancy $2400 / person
- Luxury Lodging Package Double Occupancy $2,750 / person
This exclusive whale shark expedition is limited to 10 people!
Arrive into Cancun airport, where you will be met by Expedition Leader Angela Smith from Shark Team One. From the airport you will take a shuttle bus to the Puerta Juarez ferry terminal and then take the high speed ferry to the Island of Isla Mujeres. From the ferry dock on Isla Mujeres you will be able to walk the few blocks or take a bike cab to Playa La Media Luna, a Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Property.
In the evening, Angela will have a reception to meet other expedition members go over details and instructions for the onboard conservation projects. There will also be another briefing morning of the second day about best practices and the rules for diving with the sharks.
The adventure starts early! You will have a short walk (a few blocks) to the boat each morning. Departure is around 8:00am from the dock and we will return around 1:00pm each day. The departure time may vary due to weather and boat traffic or when the best shark sightings are determined.
We will head out for a number of miles offshore depending on where the sharks have been seen on a given day. You will be snorkeling with the sharks for 5 days, making multiple entries per day into the water depending on weather and location of sharks. Two people are in the water with one guide and you t ake turns seeing the sharks allowing ample time to experience up-close and personal these gentle giants of the sea. Because this is also a private charter you will get a lot of time swimming with the sharks. After our whale shark encounters, we will head back to shallow water near a beach off the island and take a short last swim while our crew prepares lunch. We will then return to the hotel and go over the day’s conservation projects, discuss our findings, and then you are free to explore land-based photography excursions, trips to local galleries or just relaxing with the views of the ocean. In the evening you are welcome to meet up for dinner at one of the local restaurants or have a night on your own. Isla Mujeres is known for its wonderful local fish dishes and cuisine. Angela will take you to her favorite spots or you may discover your own favorites as well.
Time to head home! Grab you gear and head to Cancun. We will arrange your transfer and take care of your luggage while you are enjoying one last view of the turquoise water and Isla Mujeres on the ferry ride back to Cancun airport. While you are in the airport edit your video and photos to showoff to your friends. Don’t forget to tag #OutpostAttitude to let your friends at Guy Harvey Outpost know of your adventure.
- Daily Whale Shark Excursions
- Welcome Reception
- Transfers to and from Cancun Airport
- Photo tips and in-field conservation projects by Angela Smith
- Shark conservation and safety diving orientations
- Guy Harvey Outpost Expedition Shirt
- Biodegradable Sunscreen
- Mask, snorkel and fins
- Lunch, snacks, beverages on the boat
- Marine Park Fees
Angela Smith – Founder of Shark Team One, is a marine conservationist, photographer, explorer, filmmaker and ocean advocate.
In response to the rapid decline of shark species around the world Angela created Shark Team One, a conservation expedition organization. Shark Team One plays an important role protecting sharks and ocean ecosystems with conservation projects, outreach initiatives and citizen science expeditions to worldwide locations where endangered shark species can still be found.
Through ambassadorship and education, Angela is working to bring awareness to dwindling worldwide shark populations. She routinely travels to destinations like Mexico, Belize and the Bahamas working with scientists, local conservationists and governments to study and document endangered species and to create awareness for marine protected areas worldwide.
As an underwater photographer and filmmaker her work appears in gallery exhibits, publications, film festivals, television programming and is used by conservation groups worldwide to highlight the need for ocean action. Prior to her work in conservation Angela was a Hollywood film producer working with companies such as CBS, NBC, PBS, Universal Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Warner Brothers and Discovery. Her film, audio and multimedia producer credits include Academy Award winning films, Grammy award winning albums and Peabody Award winning television shows.
In addition to running Shark Team One, Angela is also an elected member of Southeast Florida Coral Reef Initiative (SEFCRI) A National Action Plan by United States Coral Reef Task Force (USCRTF).
Her recent conservation honors include the “Community Leader – Ocean Environment Award” from National Week of the Ocean for “Creation of a South Florida presence via community events for awareness of dwindling worldwide shark populations” and selection as a PERC “Enviropreneur” Fellow at the PERC Institute in Bozeman, MT.
In 2015 she was inducted into the prestigious Ocean Artists Society (OAS) for conservation photography.
My goal for this expedition is that you come home with amazing photography, lifelong memories and the knowledge that you helped save one of the world’s most amazing and endangered shark species. There are a number of components to the adventure and to make your time on the expedition comfortable, fun and productive for our planned conservation projects, here are a few tips
For this expedition you will be going light as far as how much photography equipment to bring. No strobes are permitted so you will be using available light. Therefore it’s important to keep the sun at your back at all times unless intentionally trying to shoot silhouettes. Even if you are accustomed to shooting in manual mode you may want to consider shutter priority because there will be so much going on around you.
Bringing a mini dome with wide-angle lens set to its widest setting is the best choice. As you can imagine even the widest angle lens will have trouble capturing the entire (up to 45’ long) shark, so get creative by setting up oncoming shots, long shots or use video as the shark swims by.
Some underwater camera housing companies such as Fantasea Line make a fish-eye lens that can attach by bungee cords if you are using a point & shoot housing or screw onto your DSLR underwater housing. GoPro or the Olympus Tough series cameras are great for this type of expedition since they allow for streamlining when you are in the water. You will want to swim fast in some cases to keep up with the giant sharks. These cameras also generally automatically provide a very wide-angle. Keep in mind however, no long GoPro sticks or drones will be allowed on the expedition.
This is one expedition where you do not have to be a photography pro or have expensive gear to get some amazing shots. You just need to keep your eyes open to assess your underwater surroundings, have a good eye for composition and make sure you are at the right place at the right time all while not touching or getting too close to the sharks. It is a bit of a juggling act, but if you do it right you can come away with once-in-a-lifetime shots to remember these magnificent animals.
Consider shooting video even if you don’t usually do it in order not to miss anything. I suggest having the video rolling before you even jump off the boat, that way you don’t miss the shot as the sharks approach and depart fast.
Make a shot list in advance so you don’t miss anything. Here are some of my favorites :
- Photos of the boat with sharks and/or people in the frame. Especially split shots of above and below water.
- Photos of whale sharks feeding in a vertical position
- Free dive down and look up to capture a silhouette of a whale shark
- Close-up of whale shark anatomy and patterns
- Wide-angle to show many sharks in the aggregation
- Get shots of your buddies in the water (fun to trade after the trip). Everyone loves photos of themselves with the sharks
- Most importantly I will be training you how to capture the photos needed for our conservation projects
It’s important to remember that weather, sea conditions, camera limitations and how the animals behave, could make it so you don’t get the shot of a lifetime. However it’s important that you try!
Water temperature on this expedition is typically about 76 degrees. I suggest using a 3mm wetsuit. The wetsuit is considered your flotation device and will make it so you don’t have to wear a life vest on the expedition. A life vest or flotation device is required by law in the marine protected area where we will be swimming. The wetsuit is an approved substitute for the life vest. If you don’t have your own we can arrange to have one on the boat for you, however for fit and comfort you may want to heavily consider buying a wetsuit in advance of the expedition.
The same goes for mask, fins and snorkel. You can bring your own that you know fit well or you can use the gear on the boat.
You may want to consider bringing a dive hood for long days snorkeling in the sun and a dive bag to carry your gear from the hotel to the boat on the first day. After that you can leave your mask, wetsuit, snorkel, fins only on the boat. You’ll bring your camera and personal items back to the hotel with you each day, so another small dive bag or dry bag is handy for this purpose. Opt for dive bags with long handles or better yet bags that have backpack straps.
Bring polarized sunglasses, hat, rash guard, hooded sweatshirt or long-sleeved shirt for after snorkeling and for evenings. Other things to consider are light hiking shoes or good walking shoes for treks around the island and exploring. Also bring biodegradable sunblock, a small flashlight and beach shoes or flip flops. Consider a light weight sun shirt for additional protection. The Yucatan sun is very intense in the summer months.
Snorkeling With Whale Sharks
Snorkeling and free diving with whale sharks is an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience!!
We will be observing the *rules of the marine protected area which currently are
- No touching the whale sharks
- No flash photography
- No feeding the fish near the sharks
- Use of biodegradable sunblock
- Always keep at least 3 to 6 feet away from the sharks’ body
- Keep at least 10 feet away from the sharks’ tail
*Local laws can change at will.
We will enter the water carefully to avoid splashing and disturbing the sharks.
Once in the water we will keep a close eye on where each shark is at all times in relation to each diver and our surroundings. It’s up to you to get out of the way of an oncoming whale shark. They quite possibly have bad eyesight due to how far back the eyes are set on the large body, so keep a close eye on sharks coming straight for you if that happens.
You will want to avoid being near their powerful tails for your safety. WATCH OUT FOR THE TAIL!
If we have multiple whale sharks in the aggregation around us, it’s best to stay put and just watch your surroundings and let the whale sharks swim around you.
Snorkeling With Manta Rays
An added bonus during the summer whale shark aggregation off Isla Mujeres is that we are likely to have multiple species of manta rays around us!
Many times mantas can be seen under the whale sharks deeper in the water column, doing loops while feeding! Mantas can be spooked by sudden moves and free diving bubbles, so approach slowly or better yet let them swim to you. They can be quite friendly. With many whale sharks around it can be easy to miss the mantas so make sure to look everywhere in the water column to see what other animals are around. You could also see; sailfish, turtles, and dolphins!
Whale Shark Conservation And Shark Team One Expedition Project
Whale sharks can grow near to 45 feet long, have mouths up to 5 feet wide and may live to be around 70 to 100 years old! The majority of whale sharks are around 25 feet long however.
Whale shark meat fetches a high price and whale shark fins are sold in various regions throughout Asia, especially being traded in Hong Kong. Sadly a single whale shark dorsal fin could fetch $20,000. in the fin trade. Because whale sharks are slow growing, live for long periods of time and sexually mature later in life, they are highly susceptible to overfishing. Fins bound for Asia are taken from whale sharks all over the world. In addition, ship strikes with fatalities and propeller damage pose additional threats to whale sharks. Whale sharks are considered highly endangered.
We will be watching sharks that are part of the Afuera aggregation, a mass gathering of whale sharks that occur east of the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula. This aggregation was discovered in 2009 and has been happening every year since. We don’t know how long it will continue and sadly the whale shark is becoming more and more endangered.
Manta rays are relatives of the whale shark and are listed as being vulnerable to extinction from overfishing and the trade in manta ray gill rakers or gill plates.
Although the conservation projects are not mandatory, we hope that everyone on the expedition will participate and learn from the volunteer citizen science projects that we have planned for the trip.
We will be recording visual data such as size estimates, numbers and sex of whale sharks and manta rays. The information collected will be used in online databases accessible to scientists and the public. We will also gather field notes on shark behavior that will accompany photography and short videos used to create online essays. We hope that each diver will participate in this project.
In addition, we will be collecting photography to help ID individual whale sharks. Shark Team One will carry a catalog of the sharks we document this year as well as make sighting and photo contributions to a number of other ongoing whale shark and manta ray study projects.
Angela will be going over onsite exactly how to get the photography we need for the shark ID. In general we will be photographing the spot patterns behind the gills on the left or right side of the animals. We’ll talk about method, safety for doing this and best photography practices. We will also be photographing any scars on the sharks.
We may also collect photo ID for manta rays, documenting the spot patterns on their undersides. We will go over onsite exactly how to do this as well.