I went on a diving trip to the Sea of Cortez in early November of 2014 and a seed was planted. Even before I left beautiful Baja a strong pull, both to come back to La Paz and to do something with a purpose, something of greater significance than feeding human demand, bloomed within me. I followed the roots of those needs back to La Paz in late January where I spent seven weeks participating in a volunteer internship for whale shark research. I had met the researcher Dr. Dení Ramírez Macías on the November dive trip, and through a friend from the trip whom I had expressed my growing urge to, I found out that Dení just so happened to have a volunteer program with room for one more. Talk about meant to be! It was an amazing adventure which gave me the opportunity to meet many fantastically wonderful people and to have many forever memorable experiences. I plan on coming back!
Amongst the volunteers there was myself and two other awesome interns, Angie and Daphne. We lived together dorm style in a big, old, Mexi-can house. Tones of person-ality! In the house I mean, but them too. It was actually a very funny assortment of per-sonalities and backgrounds. Angie is from Shark Bay, Western Australia, Daphne is originally from France but lives in Denmark, and then me, the Canadian. It all sounded like the start of some cheesy joke. Add to that two Mexicans, Dení and Felipe her husband, and a Brit, Darren the other whale shark researcher who was our main ‘go to’ for the program. What a mix!
Our spacious international volunteer house was located near the Whale Shark Mexico/Conciencia office which is a 10-15 minute bike ride away from the Malecon, the main waterfront of La Paz. We had volunteer bikes for our use and alternated them between us as two were in decent condition, while the third, which was paint-ed like a whale shark and subsequently known as The Whale Shark Bike, was a dilapidated contraption with a seat built for crotch torture. We zipped back and forth from our house to the Marina and Malecon on our trusted steeds like a little whale shark banda. The Whale Shanks! We some loco gringas, yo! *insert gangster finger signs*
We spent half our time during the internship out on a boat gathering data on the whale sharks and guiding whale shark trips for tourists. The other half was spent in the office processing da-ta. The times out on the boat were always a wonder as each trip we were lucky enough to swim with these magnificent Goliaths of the sea.
Visibility varied, occasionally to less than two me-ters, and it would always be a bit of a thrill to have this massive creature suddenly materialize out of the murk beside us. And on days with good visibility it was magical to watch them undu-late and glide in the blue, rays of light reaching down from the surface to ca-ress their lithe bodies and sparkle off the denticles of their skin as though they were crystals. A couple of times large schools of buzzing cownosed rays fluttered by and stayed long enough for us to swim with them. Oc-casionally humpback whales would make a grand appearance, once pass-ing directly behind the boat. And on some days resident dolphins would deign to thrill us as well. I may be missing the Sea of Cortez just a wee bit.