I have now been on Koh Tao for 3 years now and every year I see more and more whale sharks. When I first arrived on the island, whale sharks were an extremely rare sight and you would need to be very fortunate to catch a glimpse of one during a dive. In fact it took me over 6 months of diving nearly every day before my first encounter and only 2 more for the rest of my first year. My second year here saw a big increase in these sightings and saw 6 before the end of February with many more sightings throughout the year including multiple sightings on Padi Open Water and Padi Advanced Open Water courses. 2012 has taken it to the next level again and I am disappointed not to see one almost every week. I can recall multiple courses seeing not one but 2 whale sharks during a Padi Open Water course and a Padi Advanced Open Water course where we finished the final day at Sail Rock where we spent 2 dives surrounded by multiple Whale Sharks and also Bull Sharks much to the students delight!
So what can we put these increased numbers down to? I have asked some of my fellow divers and there are a few different theory’s that have been suggested. Some put it down to blind luck, although I’m not sure I buy into this theory as all instructors have noticed the increase in numbers. One other suggestion is that there has been an increase in the numbers of plankton, shrimp and other food that whale sharks thrive on. This might be true as thanks to many schools and Padi’s Project Aware we have noticed a huge improvement of the health of the coral reefs around Koh Tao and that has a huge knock on effect that benefits the whole ecosystem. The healthier the reefs, the more aquatic life and therefore more food sources for all marine life, including whale sharks. Other theories include the lack of ‘monsoon’ seasons, meaning that we can still visit the ‘hot’ sites in the rainy season which might be on the sharks migration pattern. I suspect the reason maybe a combination of all these theories and more but whatever the reasons might be, we are benefiting from being able to see more and more of the these wonderful creatures!