Thursday, April 9, 2009

A sharky kind of day

*Pretty coral and fishes of Ningaloo.

Yesterday was whaleshark Wednesday. WOW!
What a day. I can't tell you how excited I was. We were at the shop bang on 745 to meet with our crew and fellow whalesharkers. A quick transfer to the jetty and onto the boat, our first "try" snorkel was at 920 on a grey reef shark cleaning station. This was good practice for anybody who hadn't snorkelled before in deep water and for people to get used to the procedures of getting into and out of the boat and how to fin etc. I'm sure that for some of the folks on board this was their first shark encounter, and I have to admit quite a full on one. If we approached quietly enough (hard with 22 anxious poeple in the water but we managed it) the sharks would continue with their hygiene habits. This involves hanging almost vertically in the water column baring their pointy white teeth for the cleaner wrasse to clean. With no problems in the water and our spotter plane due to take to the air any minute we all clambered back onto the boat to patiently await the big one.
Of course Ningaloo is not a zoo, and the whalesharks are wild animals so it takes a fair amount of coordination to locate and then arrive at a surfaced shark. There are days (rarely) when they don't see any. Not yesterday! The plane had been up about 40 minutes and we were just bobbing around on the outside of the reef and the word came - WHALESHARK!

We had about 20 minutes to get our gear organised, have a quick revision of whaleshark code of conduct and then we were in. The visibility was 35-40m, the water a perfect cobalt blue with the sun shining overhead. As we swam along in the blue with our hearts in our mouths the biggest spottiest fish any of us are ever likely to see appeared. Our first shark was 6-7m. Just beautiful.

We ended up having 4 swims with the sharks, some at the surface, sometimes they'd motor along about 10-20 metres underneath. The standout swim was undoubtedly the third. Swimming along with the shark in my sights I saw a fin on the surface of the water and you hear pinging under the surface. A dolphin! Now I have never had the honour of swimming with dolphins and this one was pretty close. It seemed to be very curious about the shark, although not fearful despite the size. The real thrill was when the shark started to ascend and the dolphin went down to meet it's head. WOW WOW WOW. Everyone in the water was absolutely stunned. I couldn't speak for minutes I was so choked up. There was lots of air punching and woohooing. The videographer was STOKED. In 10 years of running the operation the skipper had never seen anything like it.

*Whaleshark from above. The 3 previous images were not taken by my Sony cybershot but were traded to Andy by some Germans he helped with their computer. They are so clear and give you a better idea of what you're looking for/at when you get to my photos.

You get about 5-10 minutes each time you're in the water. There are lots of restrictions on how many people in the water on the shark and how long a boat can spend with a particular shark. The days of going for a ride on the back of a shark are long gone thankfully. Initially the whole sliding into the water and swimming over to the shark is a mass of confusion with people swimming over one another, combined with the anxiety of what you're about to do the adrenaline is really pumping. Even fin kicks to the head glance off relatively unnoticed.

I can't adequately explain how this adventure affected me. The photos say a lot. This is the biggest fish in the ocean, they are beautiful vegetarian sharks and they are captivating. I can see why the crew are so passionate about what they do. I think even non marine buffs would get a buzz out of this experience if you don't mind swimming in the big blue.

Andy became friends with David Attenborough yesterday so we messaged him and told him that we were off to swim with whalesharks. Pretty timely don't you think?

*Coral and convict surgeon fish.

*One of my shark shots. I did my very best to take loads of images but I was shooting blind as I couldn't see the shark through the screen. You're also not allowed to get any closer than 4m, swimming and puffing very hard. You get the idea though.

*Beautiful Ningaloo - staghorn coral and little fishes ,anthias I think. Much to Payniac's disbelief I didn't bring a single fish ID book.

*From the boat back to Coral Bay. Pretty nice.

*Pre whaleshark snap. Don't I look excited? Note that my dress is the same colour as the water.

*On the boat for whaleshark adventures.

*Below are 4 very blue photos that are better if you make them full screen. One includes dolphin-whaleshark interaction for the skeptics. There is also a little movie of the beautiful whaleshark swimming away. This was the last swim of the day and so I was a bit tired and maybe didn't keep up so well. Enjoy.

The day ended with a "wind-down" snorkel on a shallow bit of reef called Spot X. A very fishy and pretty spot. Andy & I had a few, as that was all we could manage after our very exciting day, beers and saw some of the other punters from the boat. All had grins from ear to ear.

And so tomorrow ends our holiday within a holiday at Coral Bay. We got some local knowledge from the skipper y'day about some amazing places to visit as we make our way 4wding up to Exmouth. The Lagoon was a place we'd heard of last time we were here but didn't have the vehicle to get there. The troopy will get us there. We are booked in to Exmouth caravan park from Tuesday as we have a bit more scuba to do on Ningaloo. Until then we will be back in the wild.

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