Saturday, February 20, 2010

Encounter with a Whale Shark!

Last weekend, Rantje and I spent two dives purposely looking for whale sharks and didn’t see any. But this weekend we were very lucky! We weren’t even expecting it and suddenly there it was.

After determining that I had only been to one site west of the river, Rantje took me to White Point today, a new site for the 2009-2010 dive season. I loved it right away - we descended over a vibrant reef of dazzling, tightly-packed corals that plunged dramatically to a steep coral wall. At the edge of the reef, I saw several large, colorful steephead parrotfish. Then we descended along the wall until we reached white point – a jetty of white sand sticking out from the wall. We hovered at around 20-25 meters looking at the big fish – tuna, deep sea snapper, and a school of bigeye trevally. Ranjte told me later that two big dogtooth tuna were swimming right by my fins! I didn’t notice them at all, but I did notice the whale shark!

At one point, while glancing towards Rantje, I saw something odd behind him. It looked striped and blurry, like when fish are pooping or stirring up sand. I kept looking at it wondering what it could be. Suddenly, I saw the unmistakable white dot pattern on the back of a very large fish. Whale shark! I had been looking into its mouth! Elated, I looked towards Rantje to see if he had noticed but he wasn’t showing the slightest bit of interest. He was looking down at the bottom. I screamed excitedly into my regulator to get his attention. When he finally looked up at me, I flailed my arms and pointed behind him. He turned around quickly and backed up, startled. He was only about a meter away from the whale shark! I was about two meters away and the huge shark was exactly at our depth level. We watched it glide by and then high-fived each other underwater.

Continuing the dive, we also saw blue headed tilefish that are endemic to Indonesia, rings of yellow nudibranch eggs, numerous Salvador Dali sponges, emperor snapper, black and white convict blenny, stem anemone, coral cod, foxtail colonial tunicates, egg cowries eating leather coral, and much, much more. What a way to mark my 30th dive!

For those of you who don’t know, whale sharks are completely harmless plankton feeders. So, even though I encountered the biggest shark there is, I wasn’t in any danger. I just leaned back and marveled at the sight. It was one big fish! When I surfaced, I excitedly told Yunis what we had seen. He asked how big it was and I estimated that it was about the length of the benches inside the boat. He guessed that meant 6 or 7 meters. When Rantje came onboard, I asked his opinion and he also said 7 meters. So there you go, I came within 2 meters of a 7 meter whale shark! It was exhilarating.

After the dive, we spent our surface interval at a small cove called Hidden Beach. It was breathtakingly beautiful – emerald water, limestone cliffs and towering palm trees. The beach was deserted except for a couple of traditional wooden fishing boats, a small hut and a lone fisherman. We all hopped out of the boat and went ashore. The place was alive with the buzz of cicadas and large birds swooping from tree to tree. Ranjte said that they often see large hairy hogs and water monitor lizards here as well. Sure enough, Yunis called out that he had spotted a monitor lizard at the far end of the beach. Unfortunately, it was too far away for me to see. This is the same type of creature that Sarah and Alexa unexpectedly found in their house several weeks ago! It is also directly related to the Komodo dragon.

The second dive of the day was at Three Corners with Yunis. We were on a quest to find Denise pygmy seahorses. And of course, being the expert he is, Yunis found several of them on two different sea fans. The day before I had seen two common seahorses at a site Rantje playfully called "Julianne's Sand Box" because we didn't actually reach our goal of Deserted Castle. They were about 20 centimeters long. By contrast, these Denise pygmy seahorses were only about 15 mm!! They were so tiny and they blended right in with the pink coral fans they had wrapped their tails around. Macro underwater photographers travel great distances to see these tiny treasures and here they are in my backyard. In one day I saw the biggest and one of the smallest sought-after creatures of the sea. How lucky can one girl get? And did I mention that this was another private charter just for me? I wonder what my next dive will bring!


  1. So amazing, Danna! I love hearing about your scuba adventures. The Zs and I looked up the whale shark this morning in that illustrated book of Heather's here at the farmhouse: Giants of Land, Sea & Air, Past & Present. Do you remember it? The whale shark stretches across four pages!

  2. WOW you are so lucky to live there!!!

  3. Very exciting. I remember a photo of a whale shark in the "Economist" from the 1990s. Just immense! This sounds like a first class weekend.

  4. Hi Julianne! I was a Senior ELF in Malaysia ten years ago, and since then I've become a scuba instructor with my own little dive school in Thailand. I enjoyed reading your blog, and especially the diving parts.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Quero! It's nice to hear from other scuba-diving ELFs!