My First Whale Shark

Sarah & the Whale Shark

It’s my first month on this rock they call Koh Tao and as the divers enter back into the shop’s territory after their morning or afternoon dive there is one word that you pick up in their mixed rambling of conversation. Whale shark. While others get excited and run to put their name down on the boat list, I don’t think much of it. This is now the 3rd place I have worked in the past year and a half that was known for its popular visitor, Mr. Whale Shark, but I had better luck buying lottery tickets then having one grace me with its presence. It just never happened, I never got that lucky. I was either not on the boat at the right time, not diving at the right site, or just the 1 in 20 divers that happened to miss the biggest fish known to man swimming overhead. So it wasn’t the main reason to go fun diving that Saturday morning. The shop was headed to a dive site known at Chumpon, a pinnacle about 45 minutes north west of the island that was known for always making a diver happy. Lots of colorful fish, huge grouper, and yes (or so they say) the occasional whale shark. Not a bad reason to get up at 6:30am I’d say. So as we jumped in the water we were met with mild currents and great visibility, but it was still just as good as ever. Schooling giant barracuda right in front of your face, fields of pink anemone and giant menacing looking grouper that in reality are more afraid of you then you should be of them. Not a bad dive I would say and definitely not a bad way to start out your day. As we came up to do our 3 minute safety stop at 5 meters the current pulled us from the pinnacle and we found ourselves floating in crystal clear blue water. It had been a good long dive and we were all starting to get low on air but it had been well worth it, Chumpon never failed to amaze me. As my friends and I signaled that time was up and started to surface, I did a double take. Out of the blue it came, like some huge UFO out of a Spielberg movie, except this time it came with spots and a tail, a shark tail. I looked back at my friends who were also just as awestruck as me, but unfortunately unlike me, they were low on air. After a sorry look they signaled to me that they were heading up and went to the surface. I glanced back at the whale shark that was heading straight for me. Nope, I will not be missing it this time and quickly swam back down to be at eye level with it. It was by far the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Later friends would tell me ‘he was only 4 meters long, just a little guy. The last one I saw was 10.’ Do you think I care?! That fish could have been 40 meters long, it was still the biggest thing I had ever seen, and to have it swimming next to me, only a few feet away, I felt like the krill and plankton you always hear are their only source of food. It took my breath away, which in the end benefited me because I got to spend the next 5-10 minutes alone in the ocean with one of its most unbelievable creatures. I took my alternate out and purged it, watching it twist and turn as it came back for more of my bubbles, swimming over top of them like it was in some whale shark Jacuzzi. This was my first whale shark and I had it all to myself. In that moment I felt like I could spend the rest of my life, or at least the day, just following that fish around. But all good things must come to an end and as I saw my time down in the sea was starting to run short, I waved (yes, I actually waved) goodbye to my new found friend knowing I would be seeing him again. As I got back on the boat all I could think to myself was, wow, this is not a bad way to start off a day.

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