Requin de Baliene

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January 12th 2011
Published: January 31st 2011
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Requin de baleineRequin de baleineRequin de baleine

NB: Picture stolen from Picasa as I didn't have an underwater camera...
It was almost a year ago that I read that you could snorkel with Whale Sharks in Djibouti. At the time it seemed like a distant pipe dream, and was actually soon forgotten as I travelled through the deserts of Sudan and mountains of Ethiopia. But then, one day in Addis, when I'd heard from some other travellers that they had just done it, I knew I had to give it to a go. From there it took six days of buses, bribes, business cards leading to random addresses, as well as an unhealthy amount of cursing my luck, but finally, this morning, I got to swim with whale sharks.

I managed to organise the tour through a friend of a friend of a friend of a tourist I'd met, when it seemed like I wouldn't be able to go at all. And so, along with 7 French tourists, this morning I jumped into a motorboat in Djibouti City and headed off towards the Boy of Goubet, an hour's ride away, searching for world's largest fish. Within minutes we could see a fin near the shore, a scene straight out of Jaws, and it instantly sent a shiver down my
Requin de baleineRequin de baleineRequin de baleine

NB: Picture stolen from Picasa as I didn't have an underwater camera...
spine - I know they're plankton eaters, but seeing a dark, pointed shark fin cutting through the water, just as you're about to jump in, is still a nerve-wracking sight.

At the captain's orders we jumped into the water, and the tension continued as at first there was nothing but water to see. But then, out of the gloom, we spotted it. At first we could only see the outline of it's open mouth, and then the white spots on it's back appeared, and then suddenly the whole body was visible. Right there, in front and swimming towards us, was a 4 meter whale shark, slowly moving up and down the coast, with it's gaping mouth open to scoop up plankton as it goes. At 4 meters it was just a juvenile, but that's sure big enough when you're up close and personal, and splashing about in the water. It's impossible not to be in awe as the biggest fish in the sea, even if it's just a baby, effortlessly glides past your goggles. After swimming alongside this 'baby' for several minutes, I suddenly noticed another mouth appearing from the blue, and another shark came into view. Just meters in front of me, the two sharks passed each, the late comer at least 6 meters from mouth to tail, drifting past as if we weren't even there. The whale sharks didn't seem to put any effort into swimming, but I struggled to keep pace as I snorkeled alongside, and eventually, with a flick of the tail, they would disappear back into the cloudy water.

At one point, as I was following one, swimming about 3 meters behind it's fin, it suddenly turned and headed straight back past me. I quickly tried to back-paddle (and hoped I didn't look like plankton) as it swim past, it's huge mouth no more than two feet from my face, fins just inches away, and it's tiny eye seemingly looking right at me as it went.

There can be few things that rival swimming alongside a whale shark, even a juvenile, or diving down and watching from below as it effortlessly glides just beneath the surface of the water, silhouetted against the sun, fins hardly moving, and tail slowly moving from left the right. They say it's a once in a lifetime experience, but I can't agree. I'm already planning my next trip (Tofo, Mozambique). Because, once you've done it, you'll be hooked, and you'll be dying to do it again...


31st January 2011

Did Djibouti end of 2009, it was indeed amazing, and we were in Nov 2010 in Tofo....but make sure you can dive there also. What is better than seeing a whale shark...seeing a whaleshark while diving...happen to me twice, first time in the Philippines, second time in Thailand...but to be honest...they are way rarer while you dive! Peter

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