Last day on the reef with MWSRP

Our last week.

How sad.

We’ve had an awesome month here with the MWSRP team. This week feels a little like the end of school, with our group slowly shrinking. Ben and Rach left us on Tuesday to return to the UK. Alissa and Neal have been in Male on business for the past four days (but returned last night) and so it’s been a small group.

The MWSRP Crew - Fernando, Chris, Neal, Alissa, Katie, Iku, Kev and I.
The MWSRP Crew – Fernando, Chris, Neal, Alissa, Katie, Iku, Kev and I.
A failed jumping photo attempt.
A failed jumping photo attempt.
Rach, Fernando, Ivy, Me, Kev, Katie and Iku, with Chris and... umm I forgot his name, but he beat me in foosball.
Rach, Fernando, Ivy, Me, Kev, Katie and Iku, with Chris and… umm I forgot his name, but he beat me in foosball.

This however, has not impacted our knock-out record of spotting at least one WS every day when we have been out on the reef! 100% Success! Today, on our last day on the reef, we had three encounters! Meaning we have had a total of 62 WS encounters!

Monsoon change

The events of each day have been pretty similar as the one before it. However, the weather has been noticeably moody with heavy rains and rough seas one moment and then calm waters and scorching heat the next.

Also, dragonflies have started to appear. In week one, Neal and Alissa mentioned that dragonflies are a sign that the monsoons are changing as they migrate from the Himalayas. So I was quite amused when I started seeing more then one dragonfly buzz around.

I was also told that another indication that the winds are trying to change is that manta rays start appearing. This is something that we’ve been hoping for.

And so, luckily for us, every day this week we’ve been seeing mantas and we’ve stopped the boat to get in to swim with them. They are fast swimmers with such little effort. Mysterious. They are ‘the Batman of the sea’ in my mind. They appear out of the cloud of plankton and then quickly disappear with the flap of their wings.

Manta ray
Manta ray

Spotting my first whale shark

On the look out for whale sharks - Iku, Neal, Chris, Me, Alissa and Katie
On the look out for whale sharks – Iku, Neal, Chris, Me, Alissa and Katie

Ok, so in our first week Katie, Chris, Kev and I unanimously spotted Woody who was swimming right next to the boat. After that, the spots have been made by either Katie, Neal or Rach .

However, on Monday I was able to spot two WS! For the first spot I saw this clear outline of a WS swimming next to the boat and just automatically shouted


However, as soon as I shouted it, I realised that it was the same WS that we had seen a few minutes earlier.

Then, about 20 minutes later, while I gazed over the water onto the reef bear the shoreline I saw this big dark shadow and a difference in the texture of the water. I just watched it and bumbled to Ben

Uh… Is that a….?

Ben walked over and took a look saying that he liked what I was seeing. But then started thinking it was a coral block. I was adamant that it wasn’t quite a coral block as I swear my eyes saw it move. We both continued to look at it until a wave rippled over it to reveal the WS and Ben shouted

oh yea it’s a whale shark!

I shrieked in excitement, fist punching the air and jumped up and down in happiness! It’s taken almost a whole month for me to finally figure out how to spot them! The name of the WS was Lucky. How appropriate.

After the encounter, Chris told me that I had scared him a little with my jumping as we were standing on the roof of the wooden Dhoni which has a termite problem. Haha… Eeeeep!

Tuna, tuna and more tuna

Our food selection for breakfast - tuna noodles, tuna curry, tuna and lentil curry.
Our food selection for breakfast – tuna noodles, tuna curry, tuna and lentil curry.

Well, the only positive that I can see from leaving the Maldives is saying goodbye to the tuna filled dishes. Not that the food is not amazing (sorry for the double negative) it’s just that having the same awesome food for breakfast, second breakfast, lunch, short eats and dinner is quite tiring on the mind and stomach. Though I cannot praise enough the creativity and ingenuity of the chefs here. Amazingly, they find different ways to cook tuna but on bad days, finding surprise tuna in your dish is a little disheartening. Fernando expresses the frustration enough for all of us. Which most of the time, is quite satisfying seeing another person struggling too. I’m sure that in less than a week of leaving the Maldives, I’ll be missing that tuna.

Learning Dhivehi

It’s typical that when you have only a few more days left in a place, everything starts falling into place. Not only am I now even more eager to try and spot a WS, I am also eager to pick up more and more Dhivehi. I’ve started talking to Amean, our boatman, asking him how is he, and if he thinks the day will be good. It’s so much fun and I love that smile in the eyes of everyone who I try to speak Dhivehi to.

Words I’ve been working on:

How are you? – Keeneh

Good – Badabada

Bad – Sakuda

Fat – Bodoh (Amean taught me this word)

Stomach – Bundung (another word from Amean. He actually taught me these words while describing a man on another boat. Bodoh bundung! hahha!

Dive down – Ah dih

Today – Mare du

Sight/see – Belani 

Sandwich – Baanana

Sooooo with these words, I start making up sentences such as

Amean! Mare du belani how much whale shark?


Mare du badabada or Sakuda?

He humours me and gives me more tips. I love how we both have broken languages and we still can communicate. The other hand, Dude, (no one knows his name yet) he’s beginning to open up too! And yes, he has begun to respond to the name Dude! 😀

Me, Kev, Chris, Katie, Alissa, Neal, Amean and Dude on our Dhoni.
Me, Kev, Chris, Katie, Alissa, Neal, Amean and Dude on our Dhoni.

Now, we are waiting for dinner and for drinks at Manta Bar where we are able to get $2.50 mixers – for example cranberry and vodka. However, the bar tenders tend to put two double shots in the drinks…. oh yea!



3 Weeks in and New things continue…

What I’ve found interesting is that even after spending two weeks on the programme (and looking for whale sharks most days) there is still opportunities to do new things. This is probably true in my day to day life as well but being on holiday has opened up my eyes to these opportunities.

Spotting Sharks

So to look for a shark you stand on top of the Dhoni (local boat) and you want to find these moving brown black blobs. To make things more difficult they’re often obscured by the sun glare, the rise and falling of the swell and several meters of water too.

There is a 6m shark in this photo.  Yup.
There is a 6m shark in this photo. Yup.

But there’s more than one way to look for sharks. When the reef is right it can be easier to spot them from under the water. So this is where drag snorkling comes in.

Showing off underwater biceps. Thanks Chris for the photo
Under water it feels like you're flying along. Chris says it was 15kph at most.
Anna’s view of the drag

Unfortunately both expeditions underwater didn’t find us any sharks but it made for a great experience to see the sea life flying past below you.

Poo in my bed

So I had these things falling on me throughout the night during our second stay over in Digurah.

I spent the whole night thinking "Why is there sand in my bed?? and why is it not going away???"

It wasn’t until morning that I realised that it wasn’t me that carried these grains in but it was actually falling on me as I lay on the boat floor. After some googling I’m convinced that I was pooped on throughout the night. This still counts as a first.


In our rare moments of free time I wandered down the beach to look for things to photograph. The only things I found were crabs. There are lots of crabs here so I thought I’d name them.

Erik (because he's red) - The least skittish of all the crabs. He let me get really close.
Erik (because he’s red) – The least skittish of all the crabs. He let me get really close.
Boo - Like the ghosts from mario he hid away when he sees you watching him
Boo – Like the ghosts from mario he hid away when he sees you watching him
Brutus - I like him cause he's big and meaty.
Brutus – I like him cause he’s big and meaty.
Tim - The tiny ghost crab. I got cramps holding the camera steady to get a photo of him
Tiny Tim – The ghost crab. I got cramps holding the camera steady to get a photo of him

I always find crabs entertaining to photograph. They’ve got detailed textured shells which are great to capture and its also fun being able to sneak up to only as slowly and carefully as possible. Almost like a hunter catching prey (minus the pain, the killing and the maniacal laughter)

(EDIT)Back to spotting sharks

I forgot to show you where the shark actually was

still not very obvious
still not very obvious
here’s a close up

Given how hard it is to spot them its been pretty amazing that we’ve seen so many sharks so far. But we’re lucky to have the MSWRP (Eagle eye Katie especially) crew with us to help us spot them. And that’s how we get the chance to see them underwater

Just chilling with Stephan

Second week as a MWSRP volunteer

First week’s encounter count – 21.

This week’s encounter count – 8.

You would think that with the drop in WS encounters we would be getting bored right? WRONG! Things just keep getting better and better. The biggest day was on the Monday, the first day for Fernando, the last person of the MWSRP team to join us (and not the WS Fernando). We ended up seeing 5 WS in rough and strong currents, but they were beautiful encounters.

Neal, Fernando and I also got the chance to swim with a pod of either pilot whales or risso’s dolphins. The two fellas sped ahead towards the pod, whereas I swam briskly but carefully because I didn’t know how they would respond to us being in the water and joining them. They pretty much just swam together, and eventually pulled away. They were not too interested in us, but it was still and wonderful experience!

Pilot whales/Risso's Dolphins? Does anyone know?
Pilot whales/Risso’s Dolphins? Does anyone know?

Admittedly, the days are beginning to merge together. Days are jammed packed full of activity from 6:30 through to 9pm but for me, I love each and every moment. Even though I’m suffering from the most annoying and persistent case of heat rash. While spotting WS we do come across other cool animals like dolphins, sailfish jumping out of the water, turtles and stingrays! When we are on our lunch break in and around Lux, we have been swimming with white tips and black tip sharks too! They are sooo cool, and my fear of sharks has quickly disappeared!

Bonjour! A turtle! Rach thinks they are French. I'm beginning to agree!
Bonjour! A turtle! Rach thinks they are French as they stick their head up for a quick breath and then dive down in a Frenchy-like way. I’m beginning to agree!
A stingray stealthily swimming on the ocean floor.
A stingray stealthily swimming on the ocean floor.


We had an overnight stay on a local island called Dhigurah (which means ‘long island’). It was a great experience to walk around the streets of the town and just observe life there. The community is very close knit, and extremely curious of foreigners.

Trekking off to explore Dhigurah
Trekking off to explore Dhigurah
Bright flags in the streets of Dhigurah
Bright flags in the streets of Dhigurah

We had short eats at a cafe; which consisted of fried pastries with tuna inside and some cake. Neal also introduced us to ‘Betel Nut‘. It was an experience. It’s like chewing on bark, but then there is this spice that is somewhat menthol-like and then there is this overwhelming feeling of heat that rises in your cheeks. (Well it did in my case). Neal loves the stuff. I don’t mind it, would have a chew if it was offered again and was feeling game at the time, but I don’t think I’ll order it.

"Betel Nut" Neal loves this.
“Betel Nut” Neal loves this.
Kev outside the Dhigurah power house in crazy winds.
Kev outside the Dhigurah power house in crazy winds.


The MWSRP team: Fernando, Kev, Me, Neal, Alissa, Katie and Chris. Ben and Rach were leading a school tour at the time.
The MWSRP team: Fernando, Kev, Me, Neal, Alissa, Katie and Chris. Ben and Rach were leading a school tour at the time.

At night, we went to visit Ben and Rach who were looking after a school tour. We were able to watch a traditional Maldivian dance called the Boda Beru. I was dragged up to dance but I was so exhausted. Then all of a sudden in a red flash, there’s Kev next to me dancing his heart out. Shake-shake here and a shake-shake there. The dancers loved it, and so did the school kids! According to Rach, the students loved Kev so much, that he ended up being a highlight of their tour and featured on their slideshow summary as ‘the dancing guy’.

Kev impressing the locals and Ben and Rach's school tour with his dance moves during the 'Boda beru'. The school kids called Kev 'the dancing guy'.
Kev impressing the locals and Ben and Rach’s school tour with his dance moves during the ‘Boda beru’. The school kids called Kev ‘the dancing guy’.

After a good hard workout, we all returned to the Dhoni which we converted into a dorm. The sleep was not too bad actually, given that the floor was hard, there were mozzies and it was a little damp and hot. It’s pretty much like camping but on water!

Our Dhoni converted into a dorm!
Our Dhoni converted into a dorm!

Stephan, the cute whale shark

So, the most memorable encounter for the week for me is with little Stephan. He appeared last week with the grand travelly. Last week he was so wonderful, he kept swimming up to us, and I remembered that I had to keep on trying to swim away from him. Yesterday, we had one WS encounter. He was a little guy, and he swam around us. He kept circling us while feeding. When I say us, I mean the MWSRP team and then like 30 other tourists that dove in after they spotted our Dhoni at a stop. It’s quite frustrating as there’s fins and splashes in your face. But the WS was unphased. He (I knew he was a he as I swam under him to check out his bits) just kept swimming around us and was completely chilled. I was so eager to find out who he was as he was extremely cute, and when we ID’ed him and found out that he was Stephan. It was no big surprise that he was so friendly. I really, really do love him now. 🙂

ID shot of Stephan
ID shot of Stephan.

The day to day stuff

So, its Sunday.

We were supposed to go out on the Dhoni today to look for whale sharks, however, the weather has been terrible due to cyclone Phailin. It’s been raining hard, and the seas are rough. It has been like this since Friday actually.  On Friday we did a ‘test dive’ with the dive centre at the Conrad in hopes to go diving yesterday, but the dive yesterday was cancelled. So we have yet to have a dive!

I like to think that this is a sign that the monsoons are changing, as we have been told that while the monsoons are changing, awesome things like the mobula rays start migrating around the islands. *crossed fingers* I really hope this is the reason for it!

So today, with all our data done, we are all just chilling on the Conrad Rangali ‘Relaxation Island’, which is where our office is set up at. It’s called Relaxation Island because no children are allowed on it.

We hope that after lunch, the weather may clear up so that we can sneak in a snorkel and work on our free diving.

OH Yea, free diving is awesome. I love it. I snorkeled a bit back home and dove down into the little holes in the reef near my house, but that was a maximum 3 metres. Here, we get to really challenge ourselves with the whale sharks. I find we are getting deeper and deeper and lasting longer each time. Kev has improved in leaps and bounds! Our experience with the crazy swell on the Thursday really showed that! I freaked out when I was told by Ben to look out for the oncoming swell, as Kev was all by himself and there was no way that I was going to get to him on time. Though to my surprise, he was speeding to the boat quicker than all of us! What a gunner!

Our morning commute

So I mentioned earlier that its been a refreshing change having to commute to ‘work’ by Dhoni instead of the train. Here’s a video of one of our commutes on a better day.

The staff beach on the Conrad Rangali

When we want a sneaky wifi connection, or want to play table tennis, dream about playing vball (as we don’t have enough people) or want to use the loos, we go here:

Meals on Mandhoo

So our meals are shared with the staff of the Conrad Rangali. As a volunteer with MWSRP we are not guests so we get the chance to see the life of the staff members here. The food is pretty delicious, however, a little monotonous. But when we are hungry, monotonous doesn’t come into the picture! I think because we have been really free the last few days, the food has been a bit of an issue…(the hashbrown high) and talks about icecream, Tim Tams and Kev and I craving instant noodles. Here’s a picture of what the kitchen look like on Mandhoo.

Eating on Mandhoo
Eating on Mandhoo


Down Time

When we are not eating, whale sharking or on Mandhoo, we are normally in the MWSRP office in the Ari Lounge on Relaxation Island:


At the Ari Lounge
At the Ari Lounge


Kev, Katie and Chris at the Ari Lounge
Kev, Katie and Chris at the Ari Lounge


So we will be remaining here up until lunch time. Fingers crossed we get some good weather this afternoon!



A week of whale sharks…

Its the first rainy day today so our dive trip got cancelled. (Programme Perk: Dive trips are REALLY cheap if you’re on the programme. 17USD PER DIVE all gear inclusive) so instead we’re doing laundry and surfing the net.

Not every day is sunny in paradise
Not every day is sunny in paradise

From my point of view, I find that life on the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme has been hectic or totally calm. We spend hours just searching along the shorelines of the Southern Ari Atoll looking for marine giants, just standing idly on top of the boat.

Everyone up top looking for sharks
Everyone up top looking for sharks

But as soon as a shark is spotted the whole crew springs to life. People fin up and dive in with cameras, you have the boat captain steering us closer while fighting the tides, the spotter yelling out directions to captain and divers, and someone recording data before jumping in as well. Its total organised chaos.

Surrounding the shark and getting into position to take photos and measurements
Here’s the team surrounding the shark and getting into position to take photos and measurements

But I’d have to say the experience is amazing and some neat photos come out of it too =D

Anna, the shark and a trevally
Anna, Stephan the shark and a over protective trevally

After the first week I can honestly say I’m exhausted, happy and still excited for our next trip out. Given Anna’s comprehensive post I’ll just post some highlights that have stood out for me.


Every morning we take the Dhoni out from Mandhoo to Rangali and for a short 30 minutes its a peaceful ride where you can chat to others or lie down and relax.

Chilling in our morning ride on the dhoni
Chilling in our morning ride on the dhoni

Always wear sunscreen…

But its not all fun times now I’m brown, burnt, covered in a rash and have a blistered lip. Also I look like I’ve been wearing a super hero mask in the sun.

I don't sunscreen my lips because I don't like the taste.
I don’t sunscreen my lips because I don’t like the taste.


We spend most of our time in the dorms. Though mostly asleep as we’re so tired. Its simple rooms but its clean. Plus nobody snores so that’s a plus.

Simple lodgings
Simple lodgings


Admittedly the food can get a bit repetitive. There is no shortage of rice prata and tuna curries for each of your main meals. And though I don’t mind the taste of it I am getting a little tired of seeing them. So on Friday when second breakfast came around I was in for an awesome surprise.  Hash browns. You know when you’re looking for variety in your diet when you’ve just finished a full breakfast, put all your dishes away and leaving the canteen to get ready for the day but as soon as you spot hash browns you make a bee line for them and pick one up to go. Last Friday that was anna and when I spotted her holding one I did I 180 and darted right back to the buffet and grabbed myself one. So on the way out from the canteen it was the 3 volunteers, Anna, Chris ad eating hash browns with probably the biggest grins on our faces all day. Rachel in front of us slightly bemused why we were all so happy about hash browns. I can’t really explain why that hit the spot but that hash brown the memory of all three of us eating happily still puts a smile on my face. 

I can swim

This was the first time I can recall being truly terrified in the water. We were all in the water chasing down our second shark of the day. The current was rather strong and once I caught up I was too tired to actually dive down to photograph the shark. So I decided to lag behind rather than keep up. From then on I swam slowly and bobbed along with the waves watching the action from afar. In my lethargic state I wasn’t watching the waves and a huge wave crashed just past me. It was then I realised the tide had been carrying me towards the break. I started to panic and looked around. I couldn’t see anyone else. But I did see the boat a fair way off so I swam. I swam really hard. All I remember was I just stayed focused I watched the sea floor and noted that for several strokes I wasn’t moving at all because of the tide and then when the tide subsided I made ground towards the boat. When I finally made it and hauled myself up I was exhausted. I just collapsed on a bench and breathed. Later one of the programme members was telling me how he was trying to warn Anna and I about the on coming waves. Only he only found Anna and saw me a fair way off. He swam towards me to help me out only to find that I was just speeding away from him. I guess from that point of view I must have been fine and not really in danger. But just being beside a crashing wave and not being certain what the reef was like was enough to scare me into a lung bursting swim. All I have to say about it is that I’m grateful for Anna and Voonie for the training before I left =)

Anyway that’s enough random thoughts for now. A lot has happened in the past week and I’m sure more will happen in the future too.

First week as a whale shark research volunteer in the Maldives

Wow. A week has gone by, and it amazes me as to how much has happened! Just a heads up, this is an epic post!


Our first two days in the Maldives were spent in Male, the capital. Before coming to the Maldives, I had no idea about the place. Little did I know that each island of the Maldives is so very small, and that their one airport is on its own separate island!

Getting off the plane and hopping onto a Dhoni, a boat, to transfer from the airport to Male was a big surprise. We had our backpacks lugged onto this long dark boat that had people and various kinds of cargo on it. The ride there was far from smooth and I can just remember thinking about how hot and dark it was. I even mentioned to Kev that ‘hey, this is our first time on a boat at night‘. Arriving on the island of Male at night is a little chaotic. There are people everywhere and the language is so foreign that I don’t recognise a single phrase, word or sound.

When we jumped into a taxi, our trip to House Clover was quite an eye opener. Driving down a tiny street, the taxi came to a halt and Kev said to me ‘that doesn’t sound good.’ When I listened, I realised he was talking about the cars honking and a voice in the distance on a loud speaker. Protests.

We backed out of the road and took another small road. In a matter of seconds, we had arrived at House Clover. A local who was in the taxi with us warned us to be careful in Male.

Male during the day was completely different. It was busy, but everyone was so nice and friendly. Kev and I stuck out as the majority of tourists get a sea plane charter straight from the airport to their resort.  On the street there were bright yellow and pink flags strung up on the streets. I thought it was pretty, vibrant and happy looking. Kev pointed out that the flags were related to the protests about the delayed elections. We mainly walked around Male and ate at Seagull Cafe. The fruit smoothies, where to die for. Big love for their fruit smoothies. I crave one now.

Even though the day was hot, Kev and I were sweaty and tired, Kev did not hessitate to agree to complete one of my goals – to walk around a complete island. So we walked. We walked through the popular spots and the not so popular spots. We stuck by the sea and followed my iphone and google maps to ensure that we did not get lost.


That night, I was woke up from a nightmare. I dreamed that this angry crowd of people busted into House Clover and ran up the stairs to our room (similar to that scene in the movie Inception where Leonardo Dicaprio’s character gets kicked into the bath tub). Anyways, when I awoke, I realised that I could still hear the angry mob, and that indeed there were people protesting downstairs. Eventually after looking up the Maldivian news on twitter to see what was happening, I fell back asleep.

Angry protests in Male
Angry protests in Male

 Congrad Rangali

The next day Kev and I set off to the Conrad Rangali. From what we could see, this resort is a very, very luxurious hotel. When we arrived at the sea plane lounge, we were really surprised at how swank this place is. When we showed our ticket to the staff member, he gave it a double take, and then led us to a separate area which was different to the other people flying off. We were led up an elevator and then we were shown into a airconditioned room with white leather seats, a magnificent view of the sea plane terminal and the turquoise ocean and there was wifi and free food and drinks. I was so surprised and felt a little guilty for arriving in such luxurious conditions, but then again, we were there. So I went up for the sandwiches and drinks.

View of the sea plane run way from the Conrad Rangali waiting lounge
View of the sea plane run way from the Conrad Rangali waiting lounge
Kev estatic because we scored an  awesome lounge
Kev estatic because we scored an awesome lounge

The sea plane ride was amazing. The blues of the ocean made me smile bigger and bigger. I couldn’t believe that there could be more shades of blue!

When we arrived at the Conrad, we were greeted by Katie and Alissa of the MWSRP and we were shown around the resort. We then met Neal, another member of the MWSRP and finally Chris, the third volunteer for thus period. We were a small team but it seemed quite good to get to know everyone intimately.

Being a whale shark volunteer with MWSRP

Our days have been long, tiring, physically challenging but mind blowing, soul cleansing and just wonderful. Our day as a volunteer is like this:

06:30 – Wake up at our accommodation at Mandhoo Island (we stay with the Conrad staff on a local island and share the food and the facilities with staff. So we are not guests and enjoy the 5 star experience. However, we really like it this way as we get to mingle with the locals).

07:00 – Have breakfast

07:30 – Catch the Dhoni to the Conrad Rangali – this is a 30 minute ride looking out into the endless horizon and seeing th sunrise. Even though I suffer a bit of sea sickness and its rainy, this beats the daily commute by train to the city any day.

08:00 – Have second breakfast then collect towels, water, sandwiches – supplies for the day

09:00 – Get on the MWSRP Dhoni and head for the reef (MPA – Marine Protected Area) to search for whale sharks

16:00 – If we arrive back at the Conrad Rangali then go for short eats – WE LOVE SHORT EATS

18:00 – Catch the Dhoni back to Mandhoo

18.40 – Upload data and ID photos onto our computers and start analyzing them to figure out which whale sharks we have seen, if they have grown or changed (injured) or if we have spotted a new shark!

20:00 – Have dinner

*Note – as the resorts in the Maldives are pretty huge, and are a business, they have invented this thing called ‘resort time‘ where all the resorts set their clocks one hour forward so that people can have dinner at sunset.

Our Dhoni
Our Dhoni

We have a full day on the water, and admittedly it was hard to get used to. I got mega bad sea sick on the first day out and when we met the other MWSRP members Rach and Ben. (When I arrived back on land I still swayed).  However, it was an awesome day. We had 7 encounters with the whale sharks. The second day (Tuesday 8 October 2013) we had a small team of just Kev, Chris, Katie and I, and we had 9 whale shark encounters! This has been my favorite day so far! And then finally, yesterday when we had a full team of us plus Alissa, Neal, Rach and Ben, we had 5 encounters, one of them was a female whale shark! (Females are rare to see!).

Being on the MWSRP Dhoni is a little crazy when we spot a whale shark. We spend hours in the hot sun looking at the never ending blues chatting about the sea, whale sharks, and life until when either in mid sentence or mid sandwich someone yells out ‘SHARK SHARK SHARK!’ while violently stomping the roof of the Dhoni to tell the captain to stop. After that it’s like firefighter station, everyone flies down the ladder, gets onto deck, grabs cameras, GoPros, the laser measuring device and then to pull on the flippers and snorkels and then jump into the blue.

Once the bubbles have disbursed you swim like mad in the direction that the spotter has yelled out to you. You swim with your camera in your hand looking into the blue, seeing all the colour fishes and coral until you see this large, ink blue shadow appear. As you swim closer white stripes and spots appear and then you see it, with its large mouth, a whale shark.

An 'ID' shot
An ‘ID’ shot
A whale shark feeding
A whale shark feeding
Kev and the Whale Shark
Kev and the Whale Shark

These animals are amazing. They are truly gentle giants. They swim around opening their mouths every so often to feed on plankton. They are interesting creatures as they usually swim alone and each whale shark is different. Some are elusive, they see you or hear the boat stop and they just swim into the deep. Others, such Stephan and Fernando actually stay in the shallow waters and cruise along with very minimal tail movement. They see you, and they are just happy to swim along with you beside them (so long as you don’t FLASH them with your camera or try to touch them).

Stephan gave me an amazing experience. There were no other boats around (other boats with crazy tourists) and so it was just me, Kev, Chris and Katie. We took ID photos and then just swam with him for 10 minutes. He had this massive grand trevally swimming under it. The trevally was really possessive of its whale shark as it kept swimming into us and darting around. But Stephan was so chilled. He swam up to us and I had to swim away from him to keep a safe distance. Later on, Katie said that if they swim close to you its ok. It’s not ok if you swim up to them.

The other amazing experience occurred later that day. We jumped in the water for this whale shark, and I remember trying to get an ID shot. However, the whale shark’s behavior changed and instead of swimming flat it turned to one side as if to turn. This was unusual, as they usually display minimal movement. But since it was turning, it was getting closer to me, so I swam away from it. As I swam away to my left, I caught a large shadow coming at me, and within seconds I saw this wide mouth coming at me. I freaked out as it was another whale shark swimming right at me. I shrieked ‘shiiiiiit!‘ in my snorkel and swam back to my right and realised I was right in the middle of these two giants in the sea. Luckily Katie was also there, and she too was startled but was fully excited. She said ‘just stay still, let them swim around us, when there are two whale sharks they circle each other‘ she then shrieked ‘this is sooooo awesome, I’ve never had this happen to me before!

I stuck my head back into the water and watched. I was excited and also very weary. I didn’t want to be accidentally hit by one of them. But they knew where we were, and they knew where they were. I just kept thinking to myself… ‘geez…we are nothing compared to these giants‘.

It was a once in a lifetime experience. I do hope to have more encounters with these guys! Even though we are exhausted, sunburnt, got itchy heat rash and a sea sick I can’t wait to get back out there on Sunday!

Our footprint: ,