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Face-to-face encounter with the ocean's largest shark

Whale sharks are often mistakenly called whales because of their enormous size, and because of their name, but they are actually sharks. In fact, they are the ocean's largest sharks. They are even larger than some whale species, topping out at an incredible 55 feet (18m) when full grown, and able to reach a weight that is estimated to be as much as 100,000 pounds (45,000kg). Despite their massive proportions, these sharks are completely harmless to humans. There has never been a single recorded attack on a person by one of these gentle beasts. They feed on plankton, eggs of fish and shrimp, krill, and very small fish. They are filter feeders, with combs instead of teeth and incapable of inflicting harm on humans, even if they wanted to. Whale sharks have no means of defense from predators, except the ability to dive deep or out-swim attackers. They are truly the gentle giants of the ocean. They are also one of the most beautiful and magnificent creatures on the planet. For most scuba divers or nature enthusiasts, an encounter with a whale shark is the ultimate experience. These lucky snorkelers are on a whale shark adventure tour near Isla Mujeres, Mexico. They take their photography and videography seriously, as well as their choice of tour companies. Carefully selected for their strict adherence to the laws that protect the animals, Searious Diving chartered the boat for this group. This company has been instrumental in the development of conservation practices throughout the entire marine tour industry. Kristy has perched herself on the edge of the boat with her fins on and her wildlife camera and waterproof housing ready. She is even wearing a whale shark patterned dive skin for the occasion. To say that she is a whale shark lover is an understatement. She is taking instruction from Israel, a skilled and committed tour operator as she prepares to get in the water. She will be accompanied by Tocho, a seasoned guide, as required by law. His job is to ensure that conservation laws and policies are adhered to by all clients. He also acts as lifeguard if needed. Working together, Israel and Tocho, as well as the boat Captain, Beto, will time the boat position and water entry for the safest and most rewarding encounter possible. In this case, Kristy and her husband slipped into the water near a large whale shark that was feeding at the surface. The great beast turned as they approached and met them face to face. They swam alongside and behind the shark as it fed, enjoying a close encounter that lasted more than five minutes. The shark swam lazily and even turned towards them a few times in the process, giving them one of the most beautiful experiences possible. These massive fish can head for the deep water or out-swim a human with no effort at all. To be able to swim with one for so long is merely because the shark chooses to allow it. When selecting any wildlife tour, particularly one that provides guests access to such wonderful animals, it is well worth researching their reputation and commitment to animal well-being and ocean conservation. Many tour operators will bend the rules or place their guests and the sharks in danger to satisfy a client's desire to get close. In the end, those practices only chase the sharks away and harm everyone. Encounters will be brief, distressing to the animals, and unsatisfying to the people involved.

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