We set our alarm clock for 6 am for our whale shark tour and woke to thunder & lightning, and a bit later, a deluge. Not the kind of day we envisioned for our once in a lifetime outing with the giants of the sea! We dejectedly ate breakfast and started driving towards the jetty where we were to meet our tour, trying to call the company in hopes they had or would cancel, but we couldn’t get through. We sat in the campervan at the jetty parking lot and watched as other tour operators’ buses rolled in, and then finally, ours. We so wanted to leave and make up some excuse to try to get on the next day’s tour. But we stayed and the 2 girls in charge came to get us. We were not happy campers. Sylvie’s mood especially was as foul as the weather, more than pissed off that it turned out so bad as it could affect the showing of the whales, visibility etc…Above: getting on the boat…crappy weather!
The girls desperately tried to cheer us up as we got on the boat in a cold downpour, but we couldn’t see how this would turn out to be a great day. All we could think of and ask them was: how can the spotter planes (they use spotter planes to see where the whales are and guide the boats) fly in this soup? Are we going to swim in this downpour and not only be cold but see nothing?
Our boat carried 20 passengers, which is the maximum as only 10 people at the time can swim with the giants. After a safety briefing and some information about the whale sharks, our first stop was a snorkel inside the reef. The rain had intensified even more by then and it was cold. We were all to jump in and snorkel (it was a requirement) so they could make sure of our swimming abilities and to test our equipment.Above: one of our girl guides getting ready to snorkel in the pouring rain
Sylvie wasn’t having any part of it. She was cold (wearing a fleece and jacket on top of the wet suit) and the prospect of getting in the cold water with the rain pounding wasn’t her idea of a fabulous day. So she refused to go in and had to smooth things over with our captain, Bill, as it was usually a requirement to be completed before swimming with the whale sharks. He let it go and Sylvie and crew watched as everybody got in the water and miserably snorkeled in the heavy rain for 45 minutes. James saw a reef shark and big angel fish, other than that, nothing too exciting. By the time people were getting back onboard, the rain had stopped and the crew brought out platters of fruit and pastries to go with our tea and coffee (ok, so things were starting to look better). We learned that two other tour operators had given up on the day and went back to the marina, but our skipper was determined and headed outside the reef. With just enough time to get some hot liquids and goodies in our stomachs, they had found our first whale shark! The skies were now even a lighter grey with just a few hints of blue peeking behind. Everyone forgot our trepidus start of the day and scrambled to find and don their snorkel gear. Soon, group 1 was lined up on the back of the boat and jumped in. A few minutes later, our group did the same. Our first sighting was surreal as this giant creature appears to be making a straight line into your snorkeling mask, only to gently and silently gliding by you within a couple metres! We used our newfound adrenalin to keep up with the beautiful fish and easily swam along side it. It was incredible, what a majestic creature!! The visibility was also surprisingly good. Above: our first sighting – Sylvie to the furthest right in a wet suit and James in the middle in black.
Below: whale shark gliding by James Above: nice picture opp. Below: James to the very left getting a good look at this giant and trying his underwater photo skills.Below: swimming along…Whale sharks are one of the largest creatures on this planet and the largest fish in the world. The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 metres (about 42 ft) and weight more than 47,000 lb although several sightings claim larger ones , up to 18 metres. They are filter feeders and eat enormous amounts of plankton, krill, and anchovies as they swim. They are slow swimmers and usually swim on the surface, moving their entire bodies from side to side.
On one of the “sessions”, we found ourselves in a school of jellyfish and nervously waited for the boat to pick us up after our shark had dove deeper out of sight. And so went the day with each group playing leap frog and the clouds finally giving way to clear blue skies. Who would have thought? These behemoths didn’t seem to mind us dangling around them, even feeding with their enormous mouths wide open. We saw a total of 8 whale sharks (one of which was 10 metres long) along with a manta ray and a dugong (sea cow).Above: dugong
We ate a hearty lunch once the boat was back inside the reef and the sea less choppy and snorkeled a bit more before heading back to the jetty.Above: Alicia, our awesome lead swim/guide. Below: a yummy lunch waiting for us Above and below: relaxing snorkel in sunshine after lunch There was a pod of dolphins that went by, but we couldn’t catch them being too full from lunch and fighting a strong current. It turned out to be an unforgettable day (for good reasons)!