Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mozambique| Sense Africa

Safari Ideas

Swimming with Whale Sharks16th January '13

swimming with whale sharks

Swimming with whale sharks is an incredible experience. I would recommend everyone to give it a go.

Fishy sharks

Whale sharks are in fact fish, very large fish. They reach up to 14m long and are far removed from their distant cousins ‘Jaws’. The largest confirmed individual was 12.65m long and the heaviest weighed more than 36 tonnes. Although unconfirmed claims report considerably larger whale sharks than this.

Whale sharks have spots all over them. They are known as “pez dama” or “domino” in Mexico because of its distinctive patterns of spots. It is a deity in Vietnam and is called “Ca Ong”, which literally translates as “Sir Fish”. But the best name is from Kenya, Africa, where it is called “papa shillingi”. This originates from the myth that God threw shillings upon the shark which are now its spots. Hence why in Madagascar their name is “marokintana” meaning “many stars”.

These gentle giant of the seas swim slowly to the surface where they consume plankton and small fish on their long journeys through the oceans. They are filter feeders and have a narrow mouth which extends across the full width of its flattened head. Its eyes are small and far forward on its head, in order to see its approaching food.

Whale sharks are harmless creatures and appear curious when humans are around. They are mostly seen on the surface of the Ocean, and divers and snorkellers can swim with these gentle creatures. The only risk being unintentionally struck by the shark’s large tail fin…

Where to swim with whale sharks

Mozambique is a great place to snorkel and an even better place to SCUBA dive. The coral reef is spectacular there and you can see clown fish swimming in amongst colourful corals, sea fans at great depths and even manta rays at ‘cleaning stations’. Magical.  I have been on a dive when I could have sworn that I had seen a great white. Even the instructor had rather larger eyes than usual. I have seen manta rays with wing spans of over 4m and I have seen squadrons of  devil rays, all swimming over like planes in WWII. The fish are curious and not scared of divers allowing you to see all kinds of fish ranging from clown fish to scorpion fish and powder blue surgeon fish to red fang trigger fish.  However, the best fish sighting was a whale shark.

The first time I saw a whale shark was when I was on a dive trip from Tofu, near Inhambane. We were off to see manta rays and had been told to keep an eye-out for whale sharks on our 45 min boat ride to the dive site. We were told that there were often chances of seeing dolphins as well as whale sharks along the way. I scanned the sea relentlessly, although this did prove to be quite difficult as the sea was very choppy. I spent a fair bit of time concentrating on holding on and not being jettisoned overboard.

My luck was in that day. A whale shark suddenly loomed up from the deep below and surfaced very near to our boat. We had been briefed that if one did surface we could get in the water with it and swim close to it. But not to touch it. Touching the skin could damage it as we could pass on chemicals that might affect the shark. Our boat skipper gently eased off the throttle.

Swimming with whale sharks

I was beside myself when we saw it and I didn’t need second telling. As soon as the boat cut its engine I elbowed my way past everyone else to get into the water first. I literally threw myself into the sea, in an undignified fashion, got myself sorted and stuck my head in the ocean.

whale shark up close

And then there I was, swimming along side a whale shark, watching this majestic beast leisurely glide past me as I frantically tried to keep up with it. It was a wonderful moment. The whale shark did not seem bothered by a whole load of squeaking humans flailing around next to it. It simply continued to swim up the coastline. I could get so close to this enormous fish that in some ways it didn’t seem to be real.

Taking a deep breath I swam down so that I was level with its eyes. I watched in fascination as it opened its large mouth to gulp in more plankton, it was truly mind-boggling. And then with a flick of his tail the whale shark dove into the depths of the sea. I was left floating on the surface watching it disappear into the deep blue abyss.

Now that was a life experience not to be forgotten.

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