When the abyss gazes back at you
When a local diveshop owner mentioned offhand that the whale sharks are most active during the full moon. Naturally, I needed to know why immediately. She explained that the plankton is in full-bloom when the moon is full. I was floored by this revelation. Why does the plankton bloom when the moon is full? To what innate call are they ineluctably drawn, and how many other creatures are in synchronicity with this event? Well I know of two creatures anyway, the manta ray and the whale shark.
I briefly researched her claim, and learned that plankton blooms increase when the moon is waxing and decrease when the moon is waning.
How incredible! How many more life forms are tuned to the wax and wane of the moon? A true mystery of the deep, and this mystery filled my brain as we loaded our gear into the boat. We headed out to sea, and away from Isla Mujeres in search of the spot rich in plankton that was currently the lure for our whale sharks.
As we neared the place, my first thoughts were of Jaw’s informed terror as I watched the horizon being cut up with shark fins. 1) Am I seriously going to get in this ocean, and 2) am I actually going to put my body next to the largest fish in the ocean? Well, yes and yes. I came out here to do this, so do this I will. Ariel, also an owner of the dive shop, called our attention to the plankton first. It was a murky, red floating substance lulling along with the waves.
Another thrill of nature was in front of me. Yes, the largest fish in the ocean eats only this barely perceptible floating stuff. And sure enough, Ariel points to a whale shark headed straight for us. Its mouth opened completely, it was skimming the surface and sucking in water, plankton, and all. Its body was bespeckled in beautiful, regularly arranged polka-dots that flashed white as it passed beneath our boat.
Whoa! I am getting in. I can’t even believe we are allowed to get in. I got to get in. No longer afraid of the most giant, gorgeous cat-fish like wisemen of the deep, I plunged into the water. Ok, almost not afraid. Because of course when I got close to one and saw their sheer size, I was in awe. Their skin sparkled with gold sheen, and every part was efficiently sheathed muscle undulating with strength. I want to emphasize the word “part,” because they were truly so big they could only be processed in parts. Accepting this fish as a whole was a nearly impossible feat!
I would swim close and examine their tails, or the taper from their mid-body to their tail, or the long cord like muscles that ran the length of their torso. I grew most obsessed with watching their gills ripple and pump water. I started actively swimming alongside them in order to peer in their gill slits and catch glimpses of the honeycomb like structures inside. I was just another of the many remoras drafting off the whale shark’s momentum.
I swam alongside one long enough to stare into its eye. And it stared into mine. I thought of what Nietzsche meant when he said if you stare long enough into the abyss it will stare back into you.The connection grew so prolonged that I had to break it, and swim away. I grew timid when I thought of what the whale shark might think when it was considering me, and why it would not break the connection itself. Like the Dryads in Lord of the Rings, perhaps their sense of time is much, much longer than our own.
A piece of me will forever be in sync with that whale shark, looking into each other and considering our collective mystery. We are both here for only a period of time, but we met each other once, and that moment was timeless.
Click here to see plankton blooms from space!
Take me back to Dive: Isla Mujeres and Whale shark snorkeling