Into the Water
After the orientation, I was led to a small boat with seven other people. We were paddled out into the bay to join a line of eight other boats strung together.
Once tied up, our guide told us that we had 30 minutes with the sharks. Looking around me, I could see three other rows of similar boats, each with its own small paddle-boat rowing up and down, and food being thrown to entice the sharks.
As I wanted to be able to freedive with the sharks, I asked if I could remove my life-jacket. This proved to be no problem, so that was one rule broken already.
I slipped over the side of the boat into the water, and straight away was confronted by two 8-9m whale sharks. They swam right below me, and as I was watching these beautiful creatures go by I heard someone shouting.
I looked up to see our guide pointing behind me. I spun round to see the huge open mouth of another whale shark ram-feeding right in my face. I was being yelled at for being too close to the shark.
The whale sharks just get on with their snacking, but the amounts they are given would be unlikely to affect their regular feeding.
Another rule broken, but hard to avoid when food was being thrown down right on top of me. The shark was just moving up and down the line, following the trail.
Being that close to a feeding whale shark was awe-inspiring . For a moment I forgot that this was a contrived encounter. I had now moved away from my boat, and was quickly reprimanded by my guide, who insisted that I stay within my own area (seems I was a bit of a rule-breaker!).
All the food in the water was making it very murky, reducing the visibility to 15m or less. It was hard to see how many sharks were around me, but the most I counted at any one time was six.
I have never been anywhere where I could see six whale sharks at one time, so it really was an experience to remember. Looking out towards the oncoming sharks, it was easy to forget that there were more than 100 people in the bay doing exactly the same thing.
Some of my fellow-passengers chose to watch the action from the boat, but the others were in the water next to me. One was quickly scared back into the boat when the next shark passed by, until the lure of a selfie with one of these magnificent creatures became too strong.
Our guide was intent on getting photographs of the other guests with the sharks in the background. This for me was showing the ugly side of human interactions with nature, with people more intent on getting a photo with the sharks than enjoying the experience itself.
Watching the circus unfold, I saw a guide from another boat swim over and remove the life-jacket from a guest, who was then pulled deeper under water to allow for a better shot.
For me, this was one step too far and seemed very unsafe, as the guest didn’t appear confident in the water.
I made my feelings clear, for which I just got a smile and “OK, OK!” before they carried on with a second person, although this one seemed to be a better swimmer.
This really was the influence of Instagram in action, with people desperate for the ultimate shot to “go viral” on social media.
Our 30 minutes was soon up, and I was called back to the boat. Paddling the short distance back to shore, I was more aware of my surroundings and looked to see what was going on with the other people watching the sharks.
Most of the boats seemed to have half the guests in the water and half choosing to stay on board.
Those in the water had their guides keeping a very close watch on them, and I noticed another person being told that he was too close to the sharks.
Back ashore, there were queues of others waiting for their opportunity.