Wednesday 30 March 2011

Swimming with sharks!

What a perfect day! Up in time to watch the sun rise and see, for the first time, the dawn green flash (much better than the sunset one, as long as you’re patient: it’s less dazzling so you can see it better) and then out with Three Islands to swim with the whale sharks. The weather was beautifully clear, sunny and warm, and the sea was fabulously turquoise – and warm too: an incredible 30 degrees! In the water!!! Amazing.

Three Islands runs a slickly efficient, but friendly and welcoming, operation on the spacious, shady Draw Card; and the crew was young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable too. They need to be so well organised, because swimming with whale sharks isn’t as leisurely as it may sound: fish up to 16 metres long may look as though they’re just cruising along, but it’s all about scale. Really, they’re motoring. Not that our sharks were that big, but the 7m one (hardly a tiddler) we found was a real Speedy Gonzales. So how it works is the swimmers are lined up along the back of the boat, snorkelled up all ready; the skipper gets ahead of the shark and then it’s “Go, go, go!” into the water in a flurry, keeping close to Elise or Steph, heads under looking where they’re pointing to see the shark loom out of the blue, incredibly big, amazingly spotty (you see the spots first, like the Cheshire Cat’s grin, in reverse) and gliding towards you, past and then away into the blue again, tail sweeping slowly but so powerfully. It’s a fantastic experience!

We swam five times, with three sharks, the other two smaller (relatively speaking) at 4m; the last one was fun as he was intrigued by another boat and hanging round the water outlet sucking at the bubbles, and rubbing itself on the hull. It didn’t know about the 3m distance rule and came straight at me, so I was madly trying to photograph it as the same time as getting out of its way – not in case of danger, just because of keeping interaction to a minimum. I wasn’t frightened at all, even when it opened that wide-as mouth to gulp at the coral spawn in the water (not as revolting as it sounds). It was so exciting to see it so close – and all natural.

There were also turtles, dolphins and lots of reef snorkelling with a fantastic variety of colourful fish – but the stars were the whale sharks, absolutely. It was a glorious day.

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