Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Biggest Fish in the Sea

It's not every day you get to tick something off of your bucket list. Ever since we learned about whale sharks, we'd been talking about getting over to WA to snorkel with them. Years later we finally made it and the experience was nothing short of extraordinary!

Carl and Jan looked after the boys so that we could have a whole day to ourselves - a rare and much appreciated opportunity!

We chose to go out with King's Ningaloo Reef tours. Our boat for the day, the Magellan.

I'm seriously stoked to be doing something we'd been talking about for ages, not to mention the novelty of a kid free day with my husband!

The first part of the morning is spent snorkeling on the reef to make sure everyone is comfortable with their equipment. I tried to smile for the camera and got water in my mask :)

The reef is beautiful, perhaps not quite as colorful as the Great Barrier Reef, but full of interesting fish. (Note, we had a professional photographer and videographer on board with us for the day and you'll easily be able to differentiate her photos from ours by the obvious watermark on hers.)



Brian free dives (or duck dives as they call it here) to snap a photo of a sea turtle.

 Hi, little guy!

Me (above and below) having a good time and we hadn't even seen a shark yet! Oh, the anticipation!

After our morning snorkel, the passengers are briefed on the rules for swimming with whale sharks. Follow your spotter in the water, get in a single line, look where she's pointing and stay four meters away from the pectoral fins and five meters from the tail. Most excitingly, once the fish has passed by, you can take off and swim along beside it (until you're called back or someone comes along to tug on your fin and tell you it's time to head back to the boat).

Our fist glimpse of a whale shark!

Such supremely gorgeous creatures!

That's me below with a seven meter (23 foot) long whale shark in the background! Early on, I discovered that after the shark had passed the group, most of the slower swimmers would swim along on the same side of the shark. If I zoomed around to the other side of the whale shark, I was offered a terrific view and a more serene experience than when trying to navigate the "crowd" on the opposite side. Bliss.

Brian and the big fish...

The group watches a whale shark swim past...

The twenty passengers on the boat are divided into two groups as strict regulations mean that only ten people can be in the water at a time with a shark. The groups get in and out of the water to take turns with an individual shark. We had about seven or eight opportunities to get in the water with the sharks and swam with about five different ones in total.

Brian snapping a photo on one of our encounters.

Brian and I with the biggest fish in the sea.

Our group only got a fleeting glimpse of this whale shark, but it was nine meters (30 feet) long and had a crook in its back, which you can see in the photo. Apparently it had once been injured, probably by a boat, but had recovered. Using it's distinguishing features and unique spotted markings to identify it, we were told it was last recorded in the area in 1994!

In case you were wondering, swimming with whale sharks is quite safe as they are filter feeders and those big mouths are used for collecting plankton. Young sharks in particular can be very curious and will approach boats and divers.

The whale shark lives in the open sea and is found in tropical and warm oceans. While the animal is the size of a whale, it is actually a shark and breathes through its gills so it never needs to surface for air like a whale. It has a lifespan of about 70 years.

The largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 meters (41.50 ft) and a weight of more than 21.5 metric tons (47,000 lb) and there are unconfirmed reports of individuals over 14 meters (46 ft) long and weighing 30 metric tons (66,000 lb). The whale shark is by far the largest living non-mammalian vertebrate, rivaling many of the largest dinosaurs in weight.

The population of whale sharks is unknown and they are listed as a vulnerable species. Sadly, they are still hunted in some parts of the world.

One last glimpse....

Swimming back to the boat after our end of the day snorkel we saw this huge sting ray resting on the sandy sea bed.

One more adventure for the list of pretty awesome things we've done together in the last decade!

A boat full of blissed out passengers!

Thanks to the awesome crew of the Magellan for providing the experience of a lifetime!.

Finally, you might like to the see the video highlights of our under water experience that Brian put together:

All I can say is wow. The experience was surreal and awe inspiring. What a great privilege to see such a graceful and mammoth creature appear seemingly out of nowhere and then slip out of sight once again.  I might just be so bold as to suggest that you add this experience to your bucket list too - you won't be disappointed!

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