Today I spent 15 minutes hanging out with a whale shark on my own. It was one of those serendipitous days. Sandy and I were diving on the Daymayiyat Islands in Oman and upon arriving at 8am raring to go we were told we’d been allocated to the snorkeling boat. Having worked in a dive centre myself I understand it’s sometimes hard to juggle the divers, snorkelers and boats but in this case I insisted we went on the divers boat. There was a very good reason for this; the word on the street was that the boat was going to Aquarium, arguably the best dive site in the Daymaniyats.
An hour later we were at Aquarium with a strong current running through the site. We descended down the anchor line as a group with our enthusiastic Omani guide Thani. I’d already told Thani not to wait for us during the dive; as photographers, we’d be annoyingly slow and would struggle to keep up with the group.
After seeing a couple of seahorses, a turtle, a leopard shark and a sting ray, all beautifully spotted by Thani, we found ourselves lagging seriously behind, so predictable.
60 minutes into the dive Sandy signaled he was down to 50 bar and was ready to go up. I still had 100 bar and the vis was so good we could see the surface so Sandy went up and waited for me above, watching me while I finished my dive.
Almost immediately I saw a group of curious squid, then a shoal of batfish (my favourites), filming away. Then suddenly, through the camera lens, behind a flighty batfish, I saw something so unexpected it had me screaming through my regulator; at a guess it was an 8 metre long adult whale shark surrounded by an entourage of remora and other fish and it appeared she wanted my company!
We spent a very pleasant 15 minutes together while she obliged me, swimming alongside me at a distance of less than a metre, performing beautifully for the camera. I’ve spent time with many marine creatures over the years and some are friends; others foes (foes including aggressive triggerfish and sea snakes, never sharks). In this case I’d made a friend who appeared to genuinely enjoy my company. At one point she swam away and I had to fin like crazy to catch up with her. I was just about to give up and she turned around and swam directly towards me like it was a game for her and we hung out for a bit longer, cheek-to-cheek; I could have touched her. She was beautiful and amazing and bold and confident; there are not enough words to describe this amazing creature.
By now I was up to 75 minutes dive time (oops) and the excitement and exertion of furiously fining had almost bled my tank dry. I took some final shots looking down at my beautiful friend and went up to tell the others on the boat what I’d seen, but it was too late for them. Despite 7 divers frantically jumping into the water with snorkels, we’d said our goodbyes and she was long gone.
This was an experience I will never forget and all the more so because I was alone with my friend and the experience was all mine. Diving is like that; sometimes it’s just your turn and today was mine.
Photos by Sandy Chestnut.
We stayed in the Millennium Resort Mussanah, Oman – thanks to Maurice and his team for looking after us so wonderfully during our stay.
We dived with Seaoman – the dive centre is located within the resort which is very handy! Thanks to Richard, Thani and the dive team for being such pros and for finding me my whale shark.