Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 5: "It's a whale... shark"

The whale shark (Photo: T. A. Mooney)
"Get your mask fins and snorkel, get in the water quickly and try not make a splash," said Robin as we approached a 17ft juvenile whale shark several kilometers offshore. The morning had, up until then, been mostly uneventful, with one early sighting of bottlenose dolphins followed closely by a pilot whale sighting. We had tried to steam north but the weather had significantly deteriorated and we quickly turned back, after getting a report of a large group of whales around the harbour. Once back around the harbour though we didn't see anything, so we continued to travel south. Around 11:00 am, Robin spotted something in the distance from the flying bridge and we approached. From a distance, the fin protruding from the water made it clear that it was a shark but only when we drew close to it did we realize it was a whale shark.

We quickly but cautiously piled into the water, afraid that the slightest splash could send it on its way. But it stuck around for over 20 minutes as we swam with it, and it was us that eventually had to get back on the boat to continue our work while it continued to swim around us.

The whale shark (Ryncodon typus) is the largest living fish and yet it eats some of the smallest animals in the sea, primarily plankton, by filter-feeding. It's giant head is mostly mouth, but in spite of this shark's size it is docile and can manoever its body gracefully using its ability to sense movement in the surrounding water. Not exactly the kind of whale we are looking for, but a rare encounter that made our day.

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