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3, Mar, 2007

Whale Shark – Rhincodon typus

Posted in Diving News, Fish Finder, Marine Life, Sharks & Rays by saffron

Whale Shark - Rhincodon typus

Whale Shark Facts:

  • The Whale Shark is the largest fish in the sea, weighing up to 60 tons and reportedly measuring up to 18 metres in length
  • The largest ever recorded Whale Shark (listed in the Guinness Book of Records) was 12.65 metres (41ft 6in), and their average length is thought to be between 8-9 metres
  • With approximately 3,000 tiny teeth, arranged in 300 rows in each 4 foot wide jaw, they filter-feed on some of the smallest creatures in the sea, such as plankton and small crustaceans
  • The Whale Shark’s skin can be up to 10cm think, but is vulnerable to skin infections (which can prove fatal in extreme cases)
  • Whale Sharks give birth to live young which hatch from eggs within their mother’s body. A pregnant Whale Shark can be carrying as many as 300 embryos
  • As with most sharks, female Whale Sharks are larger than their male counterparts
  • It is believed that Whale Sharks can live to be over 100 years old and do not mature until they are 30
  • Humans are the Whale Shark’s main predator, although they are sometimes attacked by Killer Whales (Orcas)
  • The Whale Sharks protection status is – ‘Threatened’
  • The best Ko Lanta dive sites to spot a Whale Shark are Hin Daeng, Hin Muang and Ko Haa
  • Did you know – you can take a PADI Whale Shark Awareness Specialty Course?
  • Diving with a Whale Shark for the First Time

    Whale Shark Photo Hin Daeng, Ko Lanta, ThailandEvery scuba diver’s dream is to experience a close encounter with the ocean’s largest fish – the Whale Shark – the holy grail of every marine-life enthusiast. I too shared this dream, but was convinced that the existence of these mythical creatures was, at best, somewhat dubious.

    Of course I’d heard many wonderful stories of divers catching a glimpse of these huge marine animals and seen the Natural History programmes showcasing breathtaking footage of these graceful giants, but my own history of encountering a Whale Shark had been one of near misses and well, let’s face it, bitter disappointment.

    Whale Shark at Hin Muang, Ko Lanta, ThailandHow many times had I heard ‘We’re seeing Whale Sharks every day at the moment’ – except, of course, the day I’m out on the boat! Or even worse, surfacing from a perfectly lovely dive, to hear my fellow divers raving about a Whale Shark that I’d somehow missed. ‘How could you have missed it – it was huge!’ is not a winning formula to make a disappointed diver feel any better. Enduring the ride home with the animated chatter of divers who have realised a dream – the stories of its size getting ever bigger, whilst trying to feel genuinely happy that everyone else has had such a great day, can start to make one feel somewhat jinxed. So the day I finally saw my first Whale Shark, was a very special day indeed.

    Whale Shark Smile at Ko Haa, Ko Lanta, ThailandCruising out to the twin sea mounts, Hin Daeng & Hin Muang, on Scubafish’s luxury speed cruiser, I day dreamed of what surprises lay in store. The two famous pinnacle dive sites are located about an hour’s ride from Kantiang Bay at the southern end of Ko Lanta. They are fairly exposed in the open ocean, but lie only 200m apart. Being the deepest drop-offs in Thailand, they are magnets for all sorts of marine life, from rare critters, right up to the big stuff. You can expect to find something pretty special on almost every dive. My first dive however, was (you’ve guessed it) another personal Whale Shark disappointment. Some of the other divers on the boat had a fleeting encounter, but yet again, I was not one of them.

    Snorkelling with a Whale SharkLittle did I know, my luck was about to change dramatically… Just after we’d finished the first dive, we noticed some activity in the water just a few metres away from Hin Muang, so we went over to take a closer look.

    A few people jumped into the water with snorkelling gear on and instantly there were excited shouts of ‘Whale Shark! Whale Shark!’. Feeling rather cynical about my luck, I assumed that as soon as I set foot anywhere near the water, any sign of this creature would instantly disappear, so I took my time.

    Whale Shark VideographerExcited anticipation soon took over and I followed everyone else in. I was rewarded with a one hour personal Whale Shark encounter from a curious giant who just kept on coming back for more.

    Within a minute of being in the water, I was greeted by the giant shark cruising directly underneath me at a depth of just 4 metres, seemingly revelling in the attention of humans. I was lucky enough to have my video camera with me and, with the sunlight glistening over his beautifully patterned body, our new friend offered repeated opportunities for great shots.

    Face to Face with a Whale SharkAs the Whale Shark showed no signs of disappearing into the depths, we climbed back on board the boat, hastily got into our scuba gear and jumped back in for a closer look. As I floated effortlessly in the blue, marvelling at the truly breathtaking scene I was experiencing, it occurred to me how the curiosity of these gentle creatures is both a blessing and a curse, making them easy targets for fishermen, but also allowing lucky divers and scientists time to study and appreciate these ancient giants.

    The Whale Shark continued to circle around, sometimes even swimming through, our group of delighted divers for another 40 minutes, treating almost everyone to at least one face-to-face encounter they will never forget.

    Diving with a Whale SharkAs we neared the end of our dive, our obliging Whale Shark took in one last look at each diver, before gracefully diving down into the depths. I stayed watching his huge caudal (tail) fin get smaller and smaller until long after it had disappeared. I felt profoundly privileged, ecstatically happy, yet strangely sad that it was over. I finally surfaced from the dive having banished all my previous frustrations, safe in the knowledge that I had my own experience of a lifetime, safely recorded both in my memory and on film.

    Phil, UK, 03/03/07

    Hin Muang & Hin Daeng are easily reached in about 1 hour from the south of Ko Lanta on Scubafish’s luxury high-speed dive cruiser. These world-class dive sites offer some of the most regular Manta Ray and Whale Shark encounters in Thailand.

    Otto und Ulrike

    Hai Saffron,

    We liked diving with you very much. What a difference to the dive shop at Koh Ngai! The service, the competence, and the enthusiasm of the dive masters is what counts. Please give my regards to everyone, and the whaleshark who granted perfect dives.
    We’ve written a report about our favorite diveshop in the Southern Andaman Sea:
    http://www.taucher.net/edb/Scubafish_Narimadiving__Koh_Lanta_b6880.html

    “We have contacted the Manta Rays and they will do their best to be present around the time that you are here!” lautete die Antwort Saffrons auf meine Drohung, Anfang März für drei Tauchtage mit Scubafish in den Gewässern um Koh Lanta zu tauchen. Nun sind Mantas viel gefragte Meeresbewohner, die wahrscheinlich gerade „at the time I was there“ dringendere Termine wahr zu nehmen hatten, doch hatten sie prominente Vertretung organisiert. Dazu später mehr.

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