Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Too much of a close encounter with a whale shark.

On a day when a manta ray was seen at Hin Deang, I was having a normal day working, starting an advanced course with Deborah and Natasha at Koh Haa.

Kneeling down on the sand doing skills in front of Koh Haa 4 (away from the lagoon) Natasha signaled to look behind me. There, no more than half a metre away, a turtle was munching on coral. "ok, lets watch the turtle" I signaled. After about a minute, as we watched it swim away, I signaled lets carry on with the skills. Two minutes later, Natasha again signals me. This time "look up". It took me a moment to comprehend the dark silhouette of a whale shark swimming about 15m above us surrounded by maybe 20 Cobia. "OK, finish the skills, lets ascend". Coming up to 14m the 4-5m Juvenile whale shark starts circling closer and closer to us. My golden rules as people who know me will testify, are no touching coral, or marine life. The whale shark is coming closer and closer to us so I back away from it with my divers. Its then I realise that I have had to back up so far I am now literally against the wall of Koh Haa 4, Natasha to my left and Deborah to my right. Now I am hating the fact that my tank is backed against the wall and inevitably, against the coral. What makes it worse is that the whale shark has turned in such away it is now swimming up my body so close by the time its head passes me, I can now feel its weight pushing against my body. My right arm is across my chest and I have no option but to break another golden rule. With the its huge weight bearing against me, I begin to push the weight of the shark away from me with my forearm. It may be a juvenile, but damn its heavy!!!! After a few seconds it passes, and thinking that this must be a little intimidating for my students, I swim left shoulder back towards the lagoon. Looking back I get a shock to see the juvenile, literally less than a metre away behind us, following us into shallower water. At one point I see it move closer to Deborahs back, and at the last minute open its mouth. Its bottom lip touching the base of the tank, and the top lip touching the face of the tank, with Deborah displaying a visible 'jerk' from the impact. It then passes us on our left shoulder as I continue into the lagoon to do our safety stop. Now in 6m of water, the juvenile came up to us for one last time, within half a metre as we hovered at 5m to do our safety stop. It finally turned away and headed back towards Koh Haa 4, following it right shoulder out of sight and ending the most amazing dive I have EVER had.

I would like to stress that whale sharks are in no way aggressive or dangerous. Circumstances beyond my control put me in the position I found myself in. This beautiful, amazing creature which at 4-5m is STILL just a juvenile was just showing an inquisitiveness that in my now five encounters with whale sharks is unsurpassed.

I wish to be adamant that I have learned, agree and actively promote that we strictly passively observe marine life and do not touch, and my doing so was strictly to protect my divers and myself from any harm that this gentle giant might have unintentionally caused.

Unfortunately, this was the only image captured
that day. Taken by a snorkeler at the surface.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Make the informed choice

I read an article recently that described how British tinned tuna distributors have all now agreed to only use tuna from sources that DO NOT use purse seine fishing techniques. Purse seine is when a large net circles a school of fish and is then closed off at the bottom. The catch is then pulled in. Unfortunately sharks, turtles and many other species are also pulled up, with little hope of survival. While congratulations to British companies are in order for signing up to this agreement, one thing struck me as ironic. Princes is one such company that has signed up to this agreement and I fully congratulate them on this, but Princes is a company owned by Mitsubishi who have cornered 40% of the Blue Fin tuna market. Blue Fin tuna is an endangered species but is highly sort after especially for the sushi market. Just this year a blue fin tuna sold in Japan for a record $396000. As such proper steps to limit numbers caught to ensure the sustainability if not recovery of the species are not being properly implemented. With the scarcity of this prized catch increasing every year, Mitsubishi have a vested interest in continuing to fish, hoard and sell this endangered species with an increasing profit guaranteed while numbers decrease. People who know me know I do not eat fish but I do not dictate other peoples personal choice. What I would recommend though is that through a little research people can make a difference by checking the sources of the fish they purchase and making an informed choice.
Greenpeace created a leaflet in August 2008 discussing tinned tuna and a pdf file can be read or downloaded at: