Observing and, yes, swimming alongside these docile creatures as they slowly feed can for some, be a life-changing experience. Like clockwork each year from August into October, whale sharks averaging 25–40 feet long migrate to the nutrient-rich waters of the Midriff Island region in the Sea of Cortez, home to Las Animas Wilderness Lodge.
Baja AirVentures flies its guests by private air from Brown Field in San Diego to the remote Mexican fishing village of Bahia de los Angeles, population 500. From there, boats shuttle guests another hour south to Las Animas Lodge situated on a private, turquoise cove rimmed by a mile-long crescent beach.
The self-sustaining, solar-powered retreat offers eight well-appointed beachside yurts with in-room solar shower and composting toilet, twin and king-size beds with comforters and high thread-count linens, and covered patios with hammocks. Lodging is built around a large centrally located palapa with a large attached patio which serves as kitchen, central dining area, cantina bar, and communal lounging and game area.
Guests spend up to five hours daily observing and swimming with whale sharks. While the focus is on snorkeling with these creatures that naturally feed close to the surface, there are also afternoon outings to isolated islands and coves frequented by up to 10 species of whales (including fin and blue whales), as well as dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles and manta rays. Hiking, kayaking, sailing and fishing round out the remainder of the time at Las Animas.
But it is the spectacle of the migrating whale sharks that is the main attraction in the late summer and fall when water temperatures hover between an inviting 80F – 82F.
"There are people who travel the world over looking to snorkel with whale sharks,” says Baja AirVentures founder and president Kevin Warren. “We've had folks who've gone on our trips who also have been to Australia, Philippines, Thailand, and other known places they congregate but had yet the good fortune to swim with them. But here they accomplished that goal. Over the last five consecutive years, every one of our trips had successful encounters."
Bahia de los Angeles, just 300 air miles from San Diego offers the closest whale shark experience to North American shores and is one of the most dependable locations in the world where they make regular, predictable appearances.
Whale sharks can also be encountered during specific times of the year in the waters of Mexico's Yucatan (Isla Holbox), Honduras (Utila), Western Australia (Ningaloo Reef), Belize (Gladden Spit), Philippines (Donsol Bay), Mozambique (Tofo Beach), Seychelles (South Mahé), Thailand (Koh Tao), Maldives (South Ari Atoll), and Galapagos, Ecuador (Puerto Ayora).
Whale sharks live in all tropical and warm temperate seas but roam the oceans generally alone. However, large numbers will gather in areas with abundant plankton making them prime tourist attractions. The distribution of whale sharks indicates the presence of plankton and the overall health of our oceans. Whale shark numbers, however, are dwindling. The animal is currently listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List primarily due to over hunting (its fins can be valuable in the shark finning trade). The naturalist guides of Las Animas are careful to follow certain rules of conduct to minimize any impact on the animals during their interactions in and above water.
Operating year-round as an all-inclusive eco-adventure lodge, Las Animas offers six-day whale shark programs from August into October, departing San Diego on Monday and returning the following Saturday. All-inclusive programs run $2,495 per person, double occupancy (plus tax). The rate includes round-trip flight from San Diego, accommodations, all meals, beverages, guides, equipment and land and boat transportation.
Weeks during the 2014 season that still have good availability include; August 11–16, 25–30, September 1–6, 8–13, 15–20, 22–27, October 6–11, 13–18 and 20–25. For more reservations or details on the whale shark program and tour itineraries, call 1.800.221.9283 or visit: http://www.bajaairventures.com/BajaWhaleShark.html. For information on any of the other vacation packages offered year-round by Baja AirVentures please visit: http://www.bajaairventures.com/.
Enjoy this video on whale shark encounters with Baja AirVentures:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkYxEjDZlss#t=24
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