Holiday adventures: My First Whale Shark

Husband and I are in Thailand at the moment, decompressing and enjoying the tropical warmth and sun (from the shade. We’re a bit too pale to enjoy it more directly, especially my redheaded self). We just spent four days on a live-aboard diving tour of the Similan Islands (we went with Similan Diving Safaris and I recommend them without hesitation), and it’s hard to be back on land with no prospect of diving any time soon. Our resort isn’t really positioned for easy day trips.

Anyway, the important thing is that after twelve years of diving and about 270 trips beneath the surface, I’ve finally seen a whale shark. A little one.

Here’s the story of how that happened. I tried to keep it short, but you know me.

We did a spectacular dive on the Koh Tachai Plateau, and I was floored. It was breathtaking. Visibility for miles, clouds of hundreds and thousands of fish, so many species, so much to see that I didn’t even know what to write in my dive log when I got to it. We had a newish diver (about 15 dives, hadn’t dived in years, doing her advanced) and, as we all do at that point, she tended to gas out (erm, run out of air) pretty quickly. This meant that when she was ready to go up, I still had half a tank on a beautiful dive site.

That’s okay, the guide (Alex) had given me a spare SMB (surface marker buoy), and Michael and I are experienced enough divers that we could be left to our own devices. Unfortunately, Michael was having some nasty foot pain and wanted to quit so, sadly, I ascended with the group.

On the boat, I noticed that Alex was about to get back in. “Mini-dive,” he said, since he also still had nearly half a tank left (a bit less after ascent and safety stop). “Is that an option?” I asked. “Sure,” he replied.

I fished my dive computer out of the tub, unhooked the SMB and GoPro – it would be a short dive and I thought I wouldn’t need it – and we jumped back in for a short dive.

The site took my breath away again, and I followed Alex as we ambled around and explored, witnessed giant trevally hunting, and generally just had a grand time. I got down to my reserve (50bar), and let him know, so we began to head slowly back to the mooring line.

By the time we got there, I was at about… 35 bar? 30 maybe? My computer started counting down my stop, so I hooked my legs over the line (you can’t always do that, sometimes they’re covered in barnacles, but this was a clean one) and relaxed to admire the view.

The boss had brought his kids along, so I could watch them diving off the back of the boat and snorkelling (with the captain, who was also partial to a swim). The youngest boy waved at me, I waved back, feeling at peace with the world.

Then the call came out from the captain, who ducked down, pointed, and managed to shout underwater. I didn’t hear what he said, just the urgency of it, and both the guide and I swivelled our heads and turned. There were a few splashes over head as people grabbed snorkels and dropped in off the back.

I saw this distant, blurry shape. “It can’t be,” I thought. But it was! A whale shark came briefly into view – a mere glimpse, just for a minute, maybe less, and then disappeared. I figured that was it. The guide indicated he was going to go check it out, reserve be damned, and then the shark turned back towards us and swam directly towards me, where I hung, on the mooring line, now down to less than 30 bar in the tank, my safety stop timer having finished a little while ago.

It was just a baby, maybe 2.5m long at most, and a little shy. It came within maybe ten metres of us before turning sharply and sauntering back off into the blue.

The whole thing probably took less than five minutes, but I was high for the rest of the day.

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