To 15-year-old Josh Weaver, the sight of a 40-foot whale shark drifting out of the blue was like a navy submarine emerging from the deep.

But swimming next to the largest shark in the ocean was not an intimidating experience for the St. Ignatius student.

“It was nothing short of magical,” he said. “When you are in the water with the sharks, you have this amazing sense of peace and tranquility, which is not necessarily what you expect. They are completely harmless filter feeders, despite being the size of a bus.”

Josh and Cassandra MacDowell, 16, from Layman E. Scott High School on Cayman Brac, were the winners of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation’s competition.

They joined Guy Harvey on an expedition to Isla Mujeres off Mexico, and will be featured swimming with whale sharks and manta rays in the conservationist’s next documentary,

“It was incredible to be picked to have this experience,” said Cassandra, who hopes to study marine sciences.

“It was not what I expected. It made me feel really small to be surrounded by these sharks and manta rays. It was so exciting to see them and they just swam by.”

At one stage, the two students were in the water with five whale sharks.

Tour boats converge on the open ocean site just off Isla Mujeres between May and September, when hundreds of the creatures aggregate to feed on the plankton.

Jessica Harvey, project manager at foundation, said the purpose of the competition, which challenged students to write an essay and make a short video audition for the trip, was to inspire them to care about the ocean, and sharks in particular.

The expedition team, Cassandra MacDowell and Josh Weaver, with Louisa Gibson, Guy Harvey and Jessica Harvey of the Guy Harvey Foundation. – PHOTO: GEORGE SCHELLENGER

“We wanted the students to have an amazing interaction with sharks in a safe environment and bring them into an outside classroom,” she said.

“We also wanted to expose them to what shark eco-tourism is all about. The interesting thing about Isla Mujeres is that a lot of the people who are now tour guides were once shark fishermen.”

She said the short documentary will be screened in Cayman during Ocean Conservation Month in November.

Josh Weaver swims with a whale shark in Mexico.

Cassandra MacDowell swims with a whale shark in Mexico.

 

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