Lonely Planet Writer

"Be patient with the circling whale sharks", freediving photographer on how he got these amazing images

Every summer over a thousand whale sharks come to feed around the island of Isla Mujeres in Cancún. And there to greet them when they arrive in the warm tropical waters, is self-proclaimed landscape-chaser Matt Adcock, an Atlanta-born photographer who moved to Mexico’s Caribbean coast in 2007.

This is the time of year you can swim with whale sharks in Cancun.
This is the time of year you can swim with whale sharks in Cancun. Image by Matt Adcock – Del Sol Photography

Adcock has been practising freediving (underwater diving using no gear) in order to enhance his swimming abilities and keep up with the sea creatures of Cancún. This freediving training has resulted in unbelievable images of the whale shark. “Whale sharks move in specific feeding patterns… and although they are called gentle giants, they are swimming fast. Keeping up is usually the toughest challenge. Other times one must be patient and not move at all, waiting, because they will often turn as if they were mowing the grass, feeding on the surface,” he tells Lonely Planet News.

Whale shark at feeding time.
Whale shark at feeding time. Image by Matt Adcock – Del Sol Photography

When the sharks arrive to feed around a place that locals call “Agua Azul”, Adcock takes advantage of feeding habits to get the perfect shot. “I’ll encounter a whale shark in an almost tonic vertical position inhaling mouthfuls of ocean water filled with krill or these almost invisible tiny fish eggs. When they are in this docile position, they’re easily approached.”

Fancy a swim in Cancun?
Fancy a swim in Cancun? Image by Matt Adcock – Del Sol Photography

Matt Adcock also has eco-friendly tips for travellers on a whale shark tour: “a GoPro does very well in these circumstances. Visitors should enter the water in small groups of two with a guide, and be patient with the circling whale sharks. Snorkelers should also never interact with sharks by touching, so be careful with that selfie stick.”

Keeping up with these fast swimmers may be the hardest part.
Keeping up with these fast swimmers may be the hardest part. Image by Matt Adcock – Del Sol Photography

Is swimming with whale sharks safe?

While whale sharks are very peaceful and pose no threat to humans, you’ll still need to follow a few basic rules to avoid startling the animals: no flash photography, always stay a few feet away from the body (especially the tail, which can accidentally hit you if you’re too close), and follow all the instructions of your guide.

These sharks have massive mouths for filter-feeding on the plankton near the surface, creating quite the sight if you’re facing them head-on. Seeing a whale shark emerge from the depths of the ocean and swim right towards you is an experience not easily forgotten.

By Laura Winfree