I have been trying to swim with whale sharks since April of 2016 when I went to Roatan, Honduras, and eventually to Utilla. While in Utilla, a place I was told was known for whale sharks, I booked a week of scuba diving (2 dives per day) with the express purpose of trying to swim with whale sharks. Monday through Wednesday, we didn’t see any whale sharks but just did normal dives, which were good, but I was a little frustrated. Then on Thursday morning I woke up with a head cold and couldn’t clear my sinuses. There was no way I could go diving. So I cancelled the dives for that day. Thursday morning, the boat I was scheduled for, found the whale sharks, and I missed it. I left Utilla depressed with my failure.
In 2017, while sailing from Tonga to Malaysia with my now good friend, Henrik on his sailboat , he told us about a place where he took a bunch of divers from Sweden in Indonesia a few years prior, where there were many whale sharks. We happened to be traveling through that area and decided to take a side trip to go see if we could find the whale sharks he promised would be there. It was a beautiful bay, and a beautiful day sail. We arrived in the area after dark and found a wonderful little cove to anchor the boat in, with the plan of getting up early in the morning and spending all day swimming with whale sharks. Unfortunately, when we checked with about 10 different fishing platforms, none of them had seen any whale sharks and despite our best efforts, we couldn’t find any. Strike two, no whale sharks!
This week, our friends Jan and Rich from Slipaway told us they had scheduled a whale shark trip here in St Helena and invited us to go with them. You can imagine my excitement. Honestly I didn’t even know whale sharks were here until we arrived and met some guys attending a whale shark symposium, here. We were told that there were many whale sharks, both male and female here. My excitement builds! We were scheduled for the tour on Wednesday and that morning we were told it was cancelled because the swells were too big. Dang it! Please don’t let this be another near miss. We were rescheduled for Thursday morning. We checked in with the dive outfit and they said that they couldn’t do it that morning for some reason but rescheduled again for 2pm that same day. Of course, in my mind, I kept thinking it was going to be cancelled or rescheduled again, as is my luck with whale sharks.
At 2 pm we boarded the power boat that took us to the other side of the island. All along the way we looked for dorsal fins and green/blue splotches in the water. We passed an area where they were known to congregate without seeing a single one. We continued on. I enjoyed the boat ride as it was quite swelly and bumpy and felt like I was riding a bronco as I held on for dear life. I’ve always enjoyed those kinds of boat rides, riding the swells and the waves, more like a rollercoaster than a boat ride.
Finally, despite the constant concern in the back of my mind that we were not going to find any, we are told by the proprietor that indeed, there were whale sharks ahead and he asked us to put on our snorkel and fins and wait for his word to get in the water. Of course, I scrambled to get mine on and as soon as he said go, I was in the water with my GoPro in hand. I was so excited! When I got in the water I didn’t see anything but the water was beautiful and I could see large rock formations below. I stuck my head out of the water and the driver pointed in a direction and I started swimming. As I swam, I could slowly start to make out the tail of a large whale shark in the distance, but it was moving quickly enough and the waves were rough enough that I wasn’t able to catch up to him. But I continued swimming in that direction anyway. Then all of a sudden, there to my left, a magnificent creature started heading in my direction, and then another was there. In my first whale shark experience, I get 2 whale sharks in the same video clip. They came upon us so suddenly that Brian even got stuck between the two of them as they passed, which I got on video.
I spent the next 30 minutes or so, video-recording whale shark after whale shark, and even had up to 3 whale sharks at one time in one of my videos. I was in whale shark heaven and I didn’t want to get out of the water. Jan and Rich had also been looking for whale sharks and had been unable to find them in the past 17 years of cruising around the world on Slipaway. So you can imagine their excitement too.
It is one of the most treasured experiences of my 3 year journey around the globe. I still get emotional thinking about it. Their majesty and grace as they slowly swam through the water, almost oblivious to us swimming around them. According to the proprietor, they actually enjoy and seem to thrive with our company and one of them swam up and hung around the boat for a good 5 minutes, while those not wanting to swim with them got plenty of pictures and enjoyment from this beautiful creatures.
Unfortunately, the whale sharks are incredible here, but the internet is horrible, so I won’t be posting videos until I have better internet. But I have included a few screenshots of the videos, which I hope you will enjoy. Oh, I can’t even truly capture the emotions of spending time with these beautiful beasts and I hope you enjoy the pictures. I wish I could take all of you along with me to see how incredible they were.
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