Manager Phil North explains why the whale shark is his favourite marine animal.
At first, there were many near misses. We’ve all been there. You return to the boat from a dive to excited chatter from your fellow divers about their thrilling marine life encounter; and endeavour to share in their delight as they recount their tale while querying how on earth you managed to miss it. Or maybe you pick up on the buzz of excitement on a dive, or hear the frantic attention grabbing exploits of a dive guide only to miss the reason for all the excitement.
In truth, these moments just add to the joy when you finally enjoy that thrilling encounter you’ve been longing for. That was very much the case with my first ever whale shark encounter, which I remember vividly to this day. I was working as a videographer on the Andaman Coast of Thailand. Having got the required shots of divers swimming through a photogenic underwater cavern, I exited into the blue to hear that distant but slightly frantic tinging on a tank. Here we go again, I thought. But wait, what’s that. Oh my. A shape was emerging in the distance. Or was it? Yes, it was. Definitely, and it was getting closer! As the scene unfolded, the whale shark made a beeline right for me. The Andaman coast of Thailand is thought to be a nursery area, and this young whale shark was without doubt curious by nature. We shared a magical encounter, and my love affair with whale sharks was born.
These gentle giants are a much sought after animal for many divers and snorkellers, and for good reason. Growing up to 18 metres (albeit most likely closer to 10), they seem to emanate a friendly and curious nature, and are thought to be so ancient that they may even pre-date the dinosaurs! While they are found in tropical waters all around the globe, and can often be encountered by lucky scuba divers, they continue to have an air of mystery around them. Their breeding and birthing grounds are not yet known, although the presence of large pregnant females in the Galapagos Islands suggest this is a hotspot. St Helena in the mid-Atlantic has also become known recently as a place where both adult males and females intermingle, giving rise to the idea that this is also a crucial habitat. In many places where they are found, such as the Maldives or Mafia Island in Tanzania, it is thought to be adolescent males that tend to gather together.
No matter where in the world or how fleeting, any whale shark encounter is likely to stay with you forever, and like me, you will begin a lifelong love affair.
If you would like to have the chance to encounter one of the most impressive animals to grace our oceans, speak to one of our friendly Regaldive team today!