Sunday, March 14, 2010

Snorkeling with a Whale Shark!

I had another three day dive weekend planned for last weekend, but Indo got the best of me and kept me cooped up in my house next to the toilet for three straight days. I missed one day of work, which I didn’t mind too much because I easily rescheduled my classes by sending a few text messages and then spent the rest of the day catching up on Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives. But when I had to back out of two days of diving, I was devastated. Diving in Gorontalo is something I feel extremely passionately about and I didn’t want to miss a single moment of it. Fortunately, I was feeling well enough to go out on Sunday and even more fortunately, managed to see another whale shark! Rantje declared me to be a lucky charm and joked that I’m going to start expecting to see whale sharks every weekend. Seeing whale sharks is not at all common and the fact that I saw one on two diving weekends in a row is pretty remarkable.

The funny thing about this encounter was that it happened after the diving and snorkeling for the day were over and we were headed back to the dock. It had been a great morning already – Alexa is newly certified and on her first ever dive in Gorontalo we saw a pygmy manta ray at Mirabella! Then Sarah and I snorkeled for a bit off Molotabu Beach, playing around with my underwater camera. I was happy to have a chance to use it because I can’t take it diving with me since it’s only waterproof to 10 m. Here’s a picture Sarah took of me getting a close look at some coral while modeling my brand new wetsuit that I got in Jakarta the weekend before:

Half an hour or so later, I got the chance to take pictures of my most exciting subject yet!

In the boat on the way back in, we were looking at pictures on my camera, chatting and laughing when all of the sudden, someone noticed a fin. The fin kept popping up at different spots. Sarah called out excitedly that she saw something behind the boat. We cut the motors and navigated carefully. Then someone cried out, ‘Whale shark!” and the next thing I knew, the familiar white-spotted giant fish was right next to the boat!

The next few minutes were a flurry of activity while we all scrambled to get our snorkeling gear on as quickly as possible and jump overboard. ‘Fins! Where are my fins?” someone shouted. “Grab your camera!” shouted someone else. Rantje was the first back in the water, followed by Dave from Makassar, who shot an amazing video that I hope to upload soon. Then I jumped in, then Sarah and Alexa and then the dive staff. Everyone jumped in except for the guy manning the boat. In the movies, you always see people running out of the water when a shark is spotted, but here we all jumped in the water with the shark instead!

And what an experience it was! The whale shark was curious about us and stayed in the area for a good 10 or 15 minutes. It circled around us lazily, taking a good long look. And we looked right back. We were all so close we could have reached out and touched it multiple times. Rantje estimated it was about 5 m long, which is on the small side for whale sharks, but it was still a wonder to behold! Here's a picture I took with Dave in the background, to help you judge the size of this fish!

After it swam off, we climbed back on the boat with huge smiles on our faces. We had all just experienced something so extraordinary, so remarkable and so beautiful that I’m sure it will forever remain one of our fondest memories of Indonesia. How many people can say they’ve been snorkeling with a whale shark?


  1. Fifteen minutes by a whale shark sounds so much better than three days by a toilet.

  2. Definitely!! And had we stayed around until evening, we might have seen the pod of dolphins that apparently escorted the whale shark back out to deeper waters, according to the chief of police.