Swimming With The World’s Biggest Sharks Before They Become Extinct

Jennie Mae Ong

© Copyright 2022 by Jennie Mae Ong

Photo by Adiprayogo Liemena on Pexels.
Photo by Adiprayogo Liemena on Pexels.

Jump, get in the water” The spotter suddenly shouted. His excited voice drove us all into a frenzy and we started jumping off the boat. Water splashed everywhere as our dark heads bobbed in the water. Not everyone can swim, but our life jackets were keeping us afloat. We all bobbed around waiting excitedly for instructions, anticipation filled the air. The show was about to begin. This was what we all came here for. We flew all the way from the capital city of Manila to this sleepy town just to get a chance to swim with whale sharks. Whale sharks are the biggest sharks in the ocean and they might go extinct soon. These giant sharks are elusive and mysterious creatures. We only get a chance to see them when they surface to eat. No one really knows a lot about them. Even science experts don’t know how they’re born and where baby whale sharks or juveniles spend their time.

There!” We turned towards this massive shadow gliding in the water towards us. We looked down the crystal clear water as this giant shark swam directly beneath us. I opened my eyes big, not wanting to miss a single second of this once in a lifetime encounter. The whale shark was huge, longer than the boat we were on. I admired the white spots dotting its blue body. It looked so close I can touch it, but it was actually many meters below us. We swam above it, trailing it as it swam leisurely away. These sharks aren’t your usually sharks. Instead of running away when we see THIS shark, we swim towards it. They’re gentle giants. They pose zero threat to humans and they’re so harmless they don’t even have teeth. They only eat planktons, algae and very small sea creatures like tiny shrimps or small fishes.

That was so cool. I’m so lucky I got to have this rare experience to swim with the biggest sharks” I was grinning ear to ear while bobbing in the waters of Donsol Island. I felt like a winner who can brag to everyone I knew that I got to swim with whale sharks. It was something everyone wanted to cross off their bucket list. And more importantly, I got to see these magnificent creatures in real life before they’re gone forever.
Our group of 15 tourists was the lucky ones. Ours was the only group that had a sighting that morning. Other tourist groups rode out into the open seas for more than an hour and came back without seeing a single one. We spotted this magnificent creature after circling the sea for less than 30 minutes.

Everyone climbed back onto our boat. A triumphant buzz hung in the air as we talked about our magical encounter with this elusive giant. A strong breeze blew my hair around as the boat revved its engines in search of more whale sharks. We relaxed and enjoyed ourselves as we rode into the open sea. We didn’t have to do anything. Our skilled spotter will find our prey. All we have to do is just wait for his signal. I sat down near the spotter. He was scanning the horizon. He told me about his life. “I used to be a fisherman. I’ve been swimming these waters all my life. As far back as I can remember the whale sharks always come back here every year. They come during November and leave after summer. We’re used to the whale sharks. To us, they’re as ordinary as fishes. That’s why we were surprised when the tourists came. It’s strange for us that people would come all the way here just to see them. But it’s been good to have tourists since I make better money working as a spotter for boat tours. It’s easier work than fishing. I scan the sea for signs of a whale shark near the surface. You know, you guys are really lucky you got to see them. Normally during the summer it gets too hot, the whale sharks don’t want to surface in the morning. That’s why sometimes tourists go home disappointed, they never get to see one.” He stopped talking and stood up. He looked intently in the horizon before barking instructions to the boatman.

There’s another whale shark. We’ll go near it and cut the engine so we don’t scare it away. Get ready” He told us. Adrenaline shot through the group, we were excited to see them again. Our first encounter was too fleeting.
We were floating in the sea again. It felt refreshing to be in the cool waters as the intense tropical sun beat down on us. We waited alert for this elusive creature to show itself. I looked down and saw a magnificent spotted body slice through the water. I bobbed stationary in the water; holding my breath underwater as I watch this creature swim past me. It was so huge, I ran out of breath thrice before its entire length swam past me. The experience was humbling. I just came face to face with a powerful creature. It can easily kill me with just a flick of its tail. It finally hit me how tiny we humans really are. “Aren’t we lucky they don’t eat humans? We won’t stand a chance if they do. Good thing they’re harmless and just eat planktons.” Flashes of Jaws the movie, crossed my mind.

It was almost noon when we headed back to shore. Our group high-fived each other, in total we saw four whale sharks. How lucky! It’s almost hard to believe these gentle giants are rarely seen when we managed to see four of them in one day. As we stepped back on shore I felt sad. I read the whale sharks are an endangered species, that they might die out. I didn’t want to permanently say goodbye to these gentle giants. I hope I still get a chance to swim with whale sharks in the future, but by then, I’ll be bringing my kids with me.

Jennie Mae Ong works as a pharmacy manager by day but loves to write in her spare time. She lives in the tropical paradise Philippines so the world's best beaches are her backyard. She has an adventurous spirit and has swam with whale sharks and giant jackfishes.

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