The Day I Scuba Dived With a Whale Shark In Koh Tao
My bucket list is fast expanding and I’m keen to keep on top of things and tick off as many items as I can during my RTW2012 trip. But in amongst the list are a few more challenging items – items that aren’t so accessible.
Things such as photographing the infamous Teaphuoo wave in Tahiti – which involve heaps of planning and ALOT of dollar.
Or immigrating somewhere warm – which obviously involves alot of time, paperwork and even more dollar!
But there is one item which I didn’t think would be ticked off the list for a long time (if ever) because it was simply down to chance (at least the way I wanted to complete it), a complete mash of luck, timing and pure coincidence…diving with Whale Sharks.
Ever since I did my PADI course during my trip to Australia I have been in awe of the possibilities to get up close to these mammoth fish and it was soon pencilled into my bucket list.
Yet it has stayed a pipedream for nearly 3 years now due to the fact I kept missing whale shark season along my travels – by mere weeks at times!
In WA I was a month too early so had to settle for snorkelling with Manta Rays (although lets be honest that’s pretty epic in itself!) and last year when I came to Thailand I missed the end of the season by a couple weeks…typical!
I even debated scheduling in some time in the Philipines to coincide with them and book myself onto a dedicated trip with a spotter plane – but I wanted this experience to be natural, a real chance encounter.
Koh Tao Take 2!
When I headed back to Koh Tao a few weeks ago it was still in the back of my mind, but this time I knew I was well outside of the usual whale shark season – not a surprise this time though! However on arriving at the island there was a huge sign saying that one had been spotted a mere few days before, which got my mind racing again.
I was due to dive with DJL again and was informed on asking that this year has proven to be the busiest year for whale sharks – with them turning up throughout 2012, completly out of season. Needless to say I pencilled in some dives straight away!
But the day of my proposed dives I woke up late (which was in no means due to a heavy night out on the Koh Tao Pub Crawl!) and miss the booking slot.
Determined to get back in the water and contemplating undertaking a dive master course I bit the bullet and booked the early 6am dive for the following day.
Caught Off Guard
Anyone who knows me knows I don’t function well in the morning at the best of times, let alone on a boat gearing up dive kit at 6am! Everyone on the boat was in the same subdued mood, but over coffees we chatted about places we’d dived and our top personal dives.
For some it was Manta Point in Bali, some it was watching hammerheads in the Philipines, but for me it was definitely the abundance of marine life I saw in the Galapagos.
After a while the whole whale shark chatter popped up – our dive instructor agreed that there had been more sightings than usual, but after 8 months on Tao he was still yet to lock eyes on the biggest fish in the sea…which kind of threw the idea out the window!
Sure it’s the biggest fish in the sea, but without a spotter you have to hope that it swims within about 25m of you – which was the current visibility – anything over that and it could simply cruise pass you un noticed!
Kitted up and ready to go we hit the water and began our descent. Within 2 minutes all we could hear was the clanging of metal on dive tanks (the best way to gain attention underwater) and looked at our instructor.
Out of The Deep
I’ll never forget his face and hand gestures, a mish mash of pointing, muddled signals and bubbles fuelled by excitement!
Once he’d pulled it together there was a W hand sign on his head followed by a fin movement – “Whale” and “Shark” – we looked over the dive site and there it was – a 20foot long whale shark simply cruising around, with a heap of diver looking on in awe.
We swam slowly towards the majestic beast with its entourage of cleaner fish to get a closer look but kept our distance. The distinct spots and stripes glistening in the morning light which shafted through the water and it’s huge cavern like mouth hoovering up the plankton.
After about 5 minutes the beautiful creature decided to move on (no doubt bored of all the attention it was receiving) and disappeared into the gloomy ocean, beyond our visibility. Underwater high fives, dancing and woops of excitement filled the water before we carried on with our dive – although nothing else seemed that interesting afterwards!
30 minutes later and back on the boat there was an amazing buzz of excitement – from all the divers and the instructors alike. We were all bound by a mix of adrenaline and amazement, which carried on back to the DJL pool where bragging and cold beers were in order!
Diving with that Whale Shark – be it only a baby one – is by far the most anticipated and amazing feat in my bucket list quest. An item which I’ve already found out is looked upon in jealous envy from other divers and travellers and something I feel truly honored to have witnessed.
Have you ever dived with whale sharks – if so where and how was it?!
Photo Credit; Bella Hartmann – check out more of her shots on the Pro Video Koh Tao Facebook Page