I recently returned from an amazing trip to Western Australia where I went to go swimming with whale sharks off Ningaloo Reef. Oh and in case you did not know whale sharks have thousands of teeth in about 300 rows, so no excuse for them not to smile for the camera!! This mouth of theirs can be over one and a half meters wide, so big enough to swallow me in one go. Oh and they can grow to as much as 12 meters in length and be a hefty 10 tonnes (not unlike some of the dates I have been out with).
I thought I would be more nervous out there in the depths of the Indian Ocean but was actually more excited than nervous. I have swum with reef sharks before while snorkelling, not that much of a predator, but a shark with sharp teeth nevertheless so how different can it be?
So there we were on the boat out at sea waiting for the small plane to report back to our skipper that they had spotted the infamous sharks – yes they are so big they can be seen from the sky. Nervous yet? No, but then one of the guides we were with just happened to mention that a saltwater crocodile had recently been swimming about in the very same area we were going to be swimming? Now it’s very rare for one of these beasts to be spotted so far south and this poor chap was sadly shot, so we should be fine…. Once he mentioned it I vaguely remembered having heard about it on the news but must have blocked it from my memory.
We get news that a shark has been spotted and off we go, the rules of engagement are explained one more time, “remember being near the sharks head is a no go zone” I wonder why!? We gather at the back of the boat, spitting on masks (it has to be done to keep them clear), pulling on flippers and waiting to be told to jump in. We spot the fin and I think to myself “f*ck that’s big”, our boat pulls up so we should be someway in front of the shark (the water was a bit dark in this area so hard to see) and go go go we jump in…
And bugger me…he is right there in front of me as I go in, mouth open tiny eyes glaring – not sure who was more afraid to be honest, me or him. I frantically started to swim to the left to get out of his way, which took some doing because my god he was big. But he was oh so beautiful, he seemed to just glide past me in slow motion. I was so awe struck I just froze there and let him swim off into the distance. I can’t begin to explain how wonderful an experience it was and it just got better and better.
Over the course of the day we swam with nine different whale sharks of varying sizes, some huge, I mean so big it beggars belief. Sometimes the sharks would change direction and come right at you, apparently this is because they are attracted by the bubbles created by our flippers, and they are right there swimming so close to you, giants of the sea that are just so gentle. I loved every minute of it.
The next day we went snorkelling so we could swim with reef sharks, now after a day with the huge whale sharks the reef sharks seemed so small and almost toy-like in comparison. This just made me a little too reckless. We saw two of them dart into a cave to hide from us, so being the big brave fool I am, I swam down and stuck my head in the cave to get a better look. One of them took offense at this and chased me off….. no blood was drawn but I learnt my lesson and stayed a respectable distance for the rest of the day.
Now, what daft thing should I do next?