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  • Annmarie Throckmorton, M.A.

Hugging A Whale Shark

Baja California is a state in Mexico, and in the 1970s, while I was staying in southern California, waiting for my United States Peace Corps country assignment, I drove down the Baja California peninsula, intending to go as far south as the highway went, to see what was there and to gain experience traveling in another country. Although I had good experiences in Mexico, more often than not they were not good. I thwarted bandits who surged out from behind sand dunes when I stopped for their decoy of a hapless woman in distress whom they had placed along the ill-kempt highway, because when I saw them coming out of hiding I put the pedal to the metal. Through the grace of God I awoke the next day at dawn to find only a fine, red knife scratch on my belly, from bellybutton to solar plexus. For want to other accommodations, and with trepidation, I had slept in the bed of my truck and I did not wake when someone lifted my t-shirt and thought of slicing me open as they dragged the tip of their knife up my white belly. That was when I decided that my Mexican Baja trip was over, but I wanted to clean up before my long drive home. I didn't want to shower in the public bathroom in the camp grounds because I did not know who had cut me or where they might be lurking so I decided to rinse off with a swim in the Pacific Ocean somewhere along the way home.

It was still early in the day when I found an expensive hotel resort and sneaked onto their beach because it was well-groomed and made safer for guests. Very few staff were about, but I walked half a mile up the beach before entering the water to avoid any confrontations. I swam out to the second trough in the waves coming in onto the beach and swam along that trough, which was about thirty feet from shore, as I mulled over the dangers I had experienced in Mexico during only two days of traveling there. Surprisingly, instead of slicing easily through the water my left arm suddenly draped with a slap around a very large hunk of rougher than sandpaper a'a (ah ah) lava. The water was choppy and cloudy so I could not see what I had wrapped my arm around but I knew that this beach was only sand, smooth, fine sand without lava or even a single rock for miles north, south, east, and probably deep out west into the ocean. What had I grabbed? I immediately realized that whatever I had under my arm was alive. I desperately wanted nothing to change because I feared whatever happened would be worse than the predicament I was already in, and giving me a chance to think about it, my right arm of its own accord grabbed onto what I now knew was the belly of a large, startled shark in a desperate hug for my life. The moment I had the great beast in my arms two things happened. First the shark got rid of me with an easy, massive shrug of disgust, and next my silly little mammal brain took offense at the snub. I do not know how I knew the shark was repulsed by me, but I am sure of it, and it hurt my feelings. I was scared witless which may explain my irrational thoughts. Then I did all the things they say you should not do around sharks. I flailed my limbs in a fit of fear. My thrashing legs found the shallow ocean floor and I began hopping up and down as if to leap out of the water. I surfaced and began shrieking as if I were being devoured alive, and that is when I began looking up and down to beach to see if any one had seen my out of control behavior. No one. The shark itself was long gone. I got out of the ocean and into my truck for the long drive back to southern California. Today I know that I probably grappled myself onto a whale shark that had been peaceful basking in the warmer water near the beach shore. Whale sharks are filter feeders, eating tiny crustaceans, plankton and other small organisms. No wonder it found me disgusting.

Now my favorite sharks are the gentle, exquisitely spotted whale sharks, but I do not go into the water to find them.

... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ...

CRUDE JOKE ALERT! A young shark asks an older shark, "Why do we bite them, leave, then come back and give them a shake before we eat them? Old shark replies, "They taste better after you get the poop out of them."



towel, swimsuit, cover-up

towel-to cover tanks

dive watch

mask & snorkel

regulator mouthpiece

booties & fins


coverall suit


cap, hood

water-tight stuff box


spare fins & mask

net stuff bag


dive light & 4 C-batteries

dive locator light & 2 (1.5 volt) batteries

cyalume stick


dive knife

beach sandals



sun screen

bug spray

brush & comb

plastic bags

gear bag pocket

dive log book

dive tables

pen & paper

lip gloss

ribbon to mark rented gear bag


cold weather clothes


shoes & socks



sun glasses


CAMERA & batteries


alarm clock

2 sets of clothes for each day

(warm & cold)


BD & whistle


dive computer

____ tanks




entry fees



hotel reservations


COSMETIC BAG (pack in gear bag)

alcohol for ears


hydrogen peroxide

antibiotic ointment

burn ointment


fungicide for wetsuit

hair ties


face cream

nail file

lip gloss




26# weight total (add 10% for salt water)



snacks (cookie, jerky & nuts)

plastic food container



Caption: Another woman swimming with a whale shark

internet attribution lost

Caption: Map of Baja California

noncommercial use

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