So, what exactly are whale sharks? Are they a whale or are they a shark? And, if they’re a shark – do they eat people? Where do these mysterious creatures come from and where do they go? I’ve heard they’re huge, so how big are they?
We’ll start with a few facts. They are actually sharks, but not the scary kind! They are filter feeders, feeding on plankton, krill, fish-eggs and small fish. They do have huge mouths, which a person could actually fit in, but I’m sure they’d spit them out pretty quickly!! They feed whilst swimming, gathering the tiny particles into their gaping mouths as they move through the water. They travel the world in a migratory pattern, constantly heading for plankton rich waters. They travel to Ningaloo for the annual coral spawning, which usually happens one week after the full moon in March, Between 300 – 400 whale sharks visit Ningaloo each year, though they are considered very rare. Scientists are still mystified as to where they are during the winter months. They can weigh up to 20 ton and grow to over 12 metres long! Yes, they’re bloody enormous!
I’d had them on my bucketlist for years – I wanted to swim with them, wanted to be in the water next to them. Looking at their beautifully, spotty, patterned bodies with my very own eyes. I wanted to feel small and insignificant next to their sheer size. To see their incredible, cavernous mouths and their tiny eyes. Maybe even in a small way, I had also hoped to connect with one – their eyes meeting my eyes, with a shared inquisitivity. Really, all I knew is I wanted to experience seeing one of these majestic beings in their territory at least once in my life.
I also now know it is an exquisite privilege to swim with these amazing gentle giants of the sea, as I have since been lucky enough to swim on 2 occasions with these amazing beings, once in Playa del Carmen, Mexico and once in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. Both times were absolutely, incredibly amazing, but overall, I think my Ningaloo experience was the most awesome.
Our fabulously equipped boat was amazing. It had three levels and a back deck perfectly set up for 10 of us to jump into the water together, alongside the upcoming whale shark. We had a spotter plane too, so if there were whale sharks in the area, we would be the first to know and be the first to get there!
After a thorough briefing over hot coffee and a delicious morning tea, we suited up, selected our masks and snorkels and then we were ready to go! Like a bunch of school kids we were hyped up and excitable! Finally, we were here and it was really happening! Our group lined up on the back deck, eager to get in and check out these giants of the deep.
“Ready? Steady! Go!” our experienced guide yelled. We slid into the water full of anticipation…where was it? We looked over to our guide as she pointed to a large shadow looming up to us in the distance. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, it appeared…large as life! Gasps of excitement and awe and then it was on! We took off swimming beside the majestic creature, kicking our finned feet like our lives depended on it! She glided along just underneath us, not paying us the slightest attention. I imagined her thinking we might be similar to playful seals. The rules are to stay a couple of meters from the sides and right away from the head and the tail, for obvious reasons. And it wasn’t to hard to stay the correct distance and still see her perfectly, because there, the water is crystal clear and is the most amazing blue you’ll ever see! With her mouth slightly open as she fed, she sped effortlessly through the water with such beautiful grace. It was such an absolute sight to behold. To look at her, it seemed she really wasn’t moving very fast or even at all, but we literally had to swim as fast as we could to keep up with her! At one point, I noticed one of the girls had fallen back, and was missing out, so I grabbed her by the arm and pulled her alongside me, so she could make the most of this incredible experience!
Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, our beautiful whale shark slowly dropped down into the depths of the impossibly blue water and disappeared. Alone again.
We gathered together, babbling with sheer delight, and headed back to the safety of our boat. Climbing aboard, we could not contain our excitement of what we had just seen!
“Did you see this!!” “Did you see that?!” “Oh my God, that was amazing!” “Wow, just wow!”
We got to see another 4 that day, and each time was as exciting as the last. For lunch we dined like kings on prawns and salad, and the day drew to a close with the wind in our faces, toasting each other with a celebratory glass of champagne as we headed back to shore. In a word -superb.
The other day I had a friend ask me a deep and meaningful question “What actually makes you happy?”
This day, my heart was filled with pure gratefulness at being able to experience incredible nature at her absolute best, with no detriment to wildlife. And being able to bring this amazing experience to other humans, to help them experience what I have. On a beautifully sunny day, with amazing friends, salty hair, sun kissed face, delicious food and a full heart.
THAT. That’s what makes me happy!
If you would like to join Mich on her next trip to Ningaloo Reef in May 2020 you can follow the links below
https://www.muchaadventure.com/event/2427 MIXED CREW 15th – 18th May – Few places left
https://www.muchaadventure.com/event/ningaloo-dreaming-ll-whale-sharks-and-more/. GIRLS ONLY 8th – 11th May – Almost Sold Out