Whale Shark Snorkel Trip in Cancun, Mexico July 23, 2021

Although I had a full week of Scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico, and had some amazing sea life encounters, the Whale Shark snorkel trip on my last day of vacation was one of my favorite days, despite the fact that I got sea sick.

They offer these Whale Shark snorkel tours in several resorts in Cozumel, but the tours actually take place off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. Cancun, Mexico is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, which is a summer feeding area for Whale Sharks. However, it takes some effort to get there from Cozumel.

I packed my gear the night before and got up at 5am to be at the Ferry Terminal at 6am for the 7:15am ferry to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. The van ride to the marina in Cancun was a little over hour.

The snorkel tour boats were a lot smaller than I expected. As we headed out to sea, the waves started getting bigger. After about an hour on the water with 4 to 5 foot waves, I started to feel light headed. I tried all the tricks like looking at the horizon and it helped for a while, but I eventually had to admit I was sea sick.

We were about 34 miles off shore when we saw the others tour boats where the whale sharks were feeding. We soon joined them and were able to see some whale sharks near the surface and put a guide and a couple snorkelers in the water. They would swim with the whale shark(s) for a bit then they would get back in the boat. Then we would find another whale shark and put two more people in the water.

When it was my turn, getting in the water and cooling off helped me to feel better. The video below shows both times I was able to get in the water with the whale sharks. During the first swim I found myself between two whale sharks, which was fantastic, but I did not get as closed as I had hoped. During the second swim I was able to get closer and swim beside it for a while, which was awesome.

When it was time to leave, the waves were still big enough I was happy to go back to shore. On the way back a huge rainstorm overtook us. Although it thoroughly soaked us, it did calm the seas down and make the waves smaller. It also cooled me down and helped with my sea sickness.

Before taking us back to the marina we anchored in the shallows off the beach in the hotel zone in Cancun. The water was only about 4 feet deep but we got hang out in the water and drink Corona beer while the crew made ceviche. They used fresh Grouper for the fish ingredient and a jalapeno pepper for the heat. The captain of the other tour boat made fresh guacamole for us.

Now I wish I had taken more photos from that part of the trip, at the time I was happy be feeling better after being sea sick and and drinking a beer off the beach in Cancun, Mexico.

Spotted Moray Eel in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19th, 2021

Another fantastic encounter on July 19th was with a Spotted Moray Eel.

Make no mistake, this is a big Eel. We can’t see it’s full length but it’s pretty thick so I bet it’s between 4 and 6 feet long. It’s more common to see a Green Moray Eel but finding a Spotted Moray is less frequent. So I was really excited about this encounter.

I found a couple fantastic online information resources about Spotted Moray Eels. One is Oceana.com. Their page about Spotted moray Eels says, “Spotted morays, like most morays, have poor eyesight and rely heavily on their sense of smell. For that reason, it can be quite easy for SCUBA divers to approach these fish, but caution should be taken, as the spotted moray’s bite can be strong.” They go on to say,

“In amazing recent research, scientists demonstrated how morays use a second set of jaws in their throats to manipulate food that they have captured. Morays are unable to create suction with their mouths, so their prey has to be manually pushed to the back of the throat, something that is difficult to do without limbs. On land, snakes have a similar problem, but they are able to unhinge their jaws, one at a time, to “walk” their mouths down the prey’s body. Morays do not have that ability, and instead use their second set of jaws to manipulate their food. Attached to the esophagus via strong muscles, these “pharyngeal” jaws reach forward into the mouth, grasp the prey item from the oral jaws, which release at that time, and pull it back to the muscles of the throat. Using slow motion cameras, scientists have been able to video the exchange of food between the two sets of jaws. X-ray images of morays clearly show the pharyngeal jaws and highlight their similarity to the oral jaws.”

I found good video on YouTube of a Spotted moray Eel that shows its “pharyngeal” jaws.

Queen Angelfish in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19, 2021

Cozumel Mexico seems to have a healthy population of Queen Angelfish. During the week I shot lots of footage of Queen Angelfish but the encounter on July 19th turned out to be the best.

The Florida Museum Website has an excellent page on Queen Angelfish. The site describes the fish as, “blue-green with blue and yellow highlights on its fins, and can be differentiated from the similar blue angelfish by the prominent dark ringed ‘crown’ spot on its forehead.” They go on to say, “Its brilliant blue and yellow color easily separates it from all other western Atlantic angelfish species except the blue angelfish (Holacanthus bermudensis). These two species are very similar in coloration but the queen has a dark, ringed spot with blue dots on its forehead that resembles a crown. The queen is also more iridescent than the blue and has a completely yellow tail. These two species have been known to occasionally interbreed and create a hybrid.”

Although I saw many of theses fish while diving, most of them did not let me get that close and were always moving, which made then difficult to capture on video. However, this one swam right at me and gave me a good opportunity for a close look.

Hawksbill Turtle in Cozumel, Mexico on July 19, 2021

Back in July 2021 I took my first trip to Cozumel. Mexico. Although I was diving for five days, one of my favorite encounters happened on Monday the 19th. For the first two-tank morning dives we went to a site named Delilah. Early during the first dive our group encountered a Hawksbill Turtle.

The NOAA Fisheries Website tells us, “In many parts of the world, Hawksbills face the unique threat of being hunted for their beautiful shell, also known as “tortoise shell”, which is used by craftspeople to create many types of jewelry and trinkets. The historical hunting and killing of hawksbills for their shell nearly drove the species to extinction. Today, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) forbids the trade of any turtle products on the international market, including hawksbill tortoise shell, but illegal hunting continues to represent a threat to the species in many parts of the world.”

I did not realize how close they had come to extinction. I feel fortunate that I have been able to see and video so many of them during my time diving.

The site also mentions, “Hawksbill turtles are omnivorous (feeding on both plants and other animals), but their preferred food in many areas is sea sponges. They will also eat marine algae, corals, mollusks, tunicates, crustaceans, sea urchins, small fish, and jellyfish.”

As you can see from the video, there are lots of healthy coral and sponges on the reef for a turtle to feed on.

Key Largo Diving Trip February 26th, 2020

After two days of bad visibility at the dive sites off of Key Largo, conditions improved on Wednesday. Thankfully we went back out to Molasses Reef. I was thrilled to see a beautiful Reef Shark swimming along the reef. I was the only one in my immediate dive group to see it so I’m glad I got some video. Another small group that was on the same boat got to see the shark (you will see them in the video).

For the afternoon dive we went back to a couple sites on French Reef. While swimming through one of the grottos I spotted another Nassau Grouper.

Thanks to a couple of other guys in our dive group who spotted the turtle first, I had a great encounter with a Hawksbill Turtle.

This turned out to be my last dive of the trip since wind picked up on Thursday and the waves got bigger and Friday was my “dry day” before flying home on Saturday.

Key Largo Diving Trip February 24 2020

On Monday February 24, 2020 I was diving at Molasses Reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida with Rainbow Reef Dive Center.

I had several good shark encounters. The second one was the best. I was able to intercept a large nurse shark swimming across the reef and got within several feet of it. The Florida Museum website says, “Large juveniles and adults are usually found around deeper reefs and rocky areas at depths of 3-75 meters (10-246 ft) during the daytime moving into shallower waters of less than 20 meters (65 ft) after dark.”

Later on I had a fantastic Southern Stingray encounter. According to the Florida Museum website at Stingrays tail “can be up to twice as long as their bodies, with a sharp spine that has teeth on either side of it.”

I also encountered a small Nassau Grouper. The Nassau grouper, which is endangered, is one of my favorite groupers due to their color and stripe pattern. The Florida Museum website says, “The Nassau grouper can change color pattern from light to dark brown very quickly, depending upon the surrounding environment and mood of the fish.” This one has the stripes that fade towards the belly. The faded colors did help it to blend in with the sandy and rocky section of the reef that it was swimming in.

It’s exciting to see the larger marine creatures like sharks and stingrays, but I like to slow down sometimes and appreciate some of the smaller fish. The Queen Angelfish is one of my favorites.

Another reef fish that is a pleasure to watch is the Banded Butterfly Fish. “The banded butterfly fish is also a predator, feeding on tube worms, sea anemones, corals, and occasionally snacking on crustaceans.”

 

Key Largo Diving Trip February 23 2020

During the last week of February I had some vacation time to use up and took a short trip down to Key Largo for some diving.

I have not been to Key Largo in February since 2017 and forgot how the weather could be. It was windy with cooler temperatures all week long with 4 to 6 foot waves on some days and 2 to 4 foot waves on the others. We had days where visibility was piss poor and getting back on the boat was a challenge.

But, I did have a few good days in the water and interesting sea life encounters.

On Sunday, February 23rd I was on a boat going to the wreck of the Benwood and French Reef. The boat crew had mentioned they had seen a lot of sea turtles and Jellyfish in the area. This made sense since sea turtles eat Jellyfish. Although I did not see any sea turtles that day I did see lots of Jellyfish.

For the second dive we went over to French Reef, which is close by. I was lucky enough to have a Nurse Shark swim right by me for a great video close encounter.

For the afternoon dive I was on a boat going to Molasses Reef. First I had an encounter with a young Goliath Grouper.

Right when I got back from chasing the grouper I encountered a Reef Shark in the same area.

I must say, I was fortunate to enjoy these marine life encounters.

 

Grand Cayman Island: Turtle Encounters

When it came to turtle encounters for this trip, I did not have much luck at the beginning of the week. Thankfully that changed on Thursday. I was at a site named Little Tunnels, which is north of Seven Mile Beach, where I enjoyed a close encounter with a small Hawksbill Turtle.

For our first dive on Friday, July 19th we went to a site named Big Tunnels, which is at the northwest “corner” of the island. I encountered the largest Hawksbill Turtle that I ended up seeing during the week. The other people in the group had just gone into the Big Tunnel (I had chosen to swim above the tunnel and meet them at the exit), when this turtle swam by. I was the only one to see it!

After joining the rest of the group near the exit to the tunnel, we encountered a Hawskbills Turtle that was feeding at the exit of the tunnel where it had opened up to be more of a canyon than tunnel.

For our second dive on Friday we went to a dive site named Aquarium off of Seven Mile Beach. I encountered a small Hawskbill Turtle swimming along a coral ridge. It kind of looks like it had some shell damage near its rear.

My closest turtle encounter happened on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last morning of diving. We were at a dive site named Caribbean Club when a Hawksbill turtle swam right towards me, checked me out and swam on.

I was very happy to finish the trip with a close encounter like this and to be able to capture it on video.

Grand Cayman Island: Silversides and Tarpon at Devil’s Grotto

It turned out that mid-July is a special time in Grand Cayman because schools of Silversides inhabited the grotto’s (tunnels and caves under the reef) at the dive site named Devil’s Grotto near shore in George Town on the west end of the island. I have always enjoyed seeing schools (otherwise known a s bait balls) in the Florida Keys, so I expected this would a be quite an experience.

The first trip we made to Devil’s Grotto was mid-week on Wednesday, July 17th. At that time there was an impressive sized school of Silversides in the grotto system. As a results there were some nice sized Tarpon swimming around and inside the grotto system. I was able to have some close encounters with a few.

On Thursday, July 18th we went to the same area. As I swam through the grottos, the schools of Silversides seemed a lot smaller. However, I did have some great Tarpon encounters. One of my favorites was at the end of the video below where I swam up out of the grotto through an opening in the ceiling and came right up under a nice sized tarpon.

Later on I was swimming above the grotto system while the others in the group went through. This time I was able to see a school of Silversides from above and also watch a beautiful school of Blue Tang swim by.

I went again on Saturday, July 20th, which was my last day in the water for the trip. By that time I did not see any Silversides as I swam through the grotto system. I’m not sure if they all were eaten, swam away or some of both.

Grand Cayman Island: Stingray City

My goal for 2019 was to go to a diving destination I had not been to before. After some careful research I decided to go to Grand Cayman Island. I was looking for a place with a top notch dive operation and dive guides. After looking at a dozen or so options I decided on Sunset House and Sunset Divers in George Town.

Sunset Divers turned out to be everything I had hoped for this trip. Top notch customer service, safety procedures, dive briefings and dive guides!

One of the most popular attractions for divers in Grand Cayman Island is Stingray City.

I learned a lot during the dive briefing. The females are the large brown ones. The males is the smaller ray that has more of a blueish tint to it. It also has claspers under its tail.

Our dive guide was able to find and bring back two females and a male to bring back to our group. I was amazed how we were able to feed them squid out of our hands and how they liked us rubbing their snouts a bit.

Some people don’t like the fact that local dive shops offer tours to Stingray City because they don’t like the concept that people feed, touch and interact with wild stingrays. I think it shows how smart stingrays really are! I loved the experience and would enjoy going back!