Diving With Whale Sharks
Diving with Whale Sharks can be one of the most exhilarating experiences one can have. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world and perhaps one of the most gentle. The majority of whale sharks encountered are juveniles that range in size from 15-25 feet. Adults may reach a maximum size of 65 feet and consume massive quantities of zoo-plankton.
Tracking the Whale Sharks
The Whale Sharks are highly migratory marine animals and travel great distances. There are a few web sites that allow you to track whale sharks so you can see where they are.
In 2009 more than 60 Whale sharks can be spotted in the Gulf of Mexico, around the Alabama and Pensacola area. Most sharks tend to be spotted 10-15 miles offshore, while a few can be spotted within a couple of miles from the beaches. Whale sharks occasionally grace the divers at the the USS Oriskany, but most are spotted en-route.
Each Whale Shark is unique
Whale sharks like whales can be identified by unique characteristics that each posses. With whale sharks each fish is covered in a number light colored spots and the patterns they form allow researchers to identify each individual. If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to dive with one of these giants, try and photograph the left side, behind the gills and above the pectoral fin. Databases are available that keep track of the different whale sharks to identify the particular shark you saw. You can use that photograph to identify or report your whale at the Ecocean photo-identification library (www.whaleshark.org).
Rules to Follow when Diving with Whale Sharks
When you locate a whale shark and decide to dive with the whale shark, there are a few things that you must keep in mind if you want a successful interaction.
- Keep your entry into the water and your approach quiet. Stealth matters if you or your fellow divers cause too much noise, the whale shark will most likely leave.
- Enter the water feet first gently lowering yourself into the water.
- Keep your fins under the surface at all times. Surface kicks create loud splashes, which can startle the animal and cause its departure.
- Whale sharks are gentle creatures and will not attack you. However it is possible to receive injuries or worse due to their enormous size.
- Approach the animals from the side, not from the head or tail. The animal may dive or bank if you startle or disturb the creature. Keep your distance from the shark, a good rule of thumb is stay at least 15 feet away from the shark.
When trying to take Photos of Whale Sharks
- Let the shark control the dive, you’re in its environment. Disturbing their natural behavior can cause the animal to dive or bank in an attempt to remove itself from the perceived danger.
- Remember what your Mother taught you! Look don’t touch. You might want to get that once in a lifetime photo of you touching a massive whale shark. However in most cases what you’ll get is an ended dive with a blurry picture of a whale shark that suddenly dove to get away from you.
- When taking picture if your camera has lights or uses flashes, do not shine or flash lights the eyes of the shark.
Charters or guides can increase your opportunity to interact with one or many of these animals. One trick of the trade is to do your dive at night. Your charter boat will use large flood lights to attract plankton, which in-turn attracts hungry whale sharks.