Inspirational story, as captured by Kevin Skellern, PADI Instructor #495663, Blue Planet Divers, Koh Lanta, Thailand:
On a day when a Manta Ray was seen at Hin Deang, I was having a normal day working, starting an Advanced Course with Deborah and Natasha at Koh Haa.
Kneeling down on the sand doing skills in front of Koh Haa 4 (away from the lagoon). Fifteen year old Natasha signaled to look behind me. There, no more than half a metre away, a turtle was munching on coral. “Ok, let’s watch the turtle” I signaled. After about a minute, as we watched it swim away, I signaled “let’s carry on with the skills”. Two minutes later, Natasha again signals me. This time “look up”. It took me a moment to comprehend the dark silhouette of a whale shark swimming about 15m above us surrounded by maybe 20 Cobia. “OK”, we finish the skills and I signal “ascend”.
Coming up to 14m, the 4-5m Juvenile whale shark starts circling closer and closer to us. My golden rules as people who know me will testify, are – no touching coral, or marine life. The whale shark is coming closer and closer to us so I back away from it with my divers. It then I realise that I have had to back up so far I am now literally against the wall of Koh Haa 4 – Natasha to my left who’s nervously holding my hand, and Deborah to my right. Now I am hating the fact that my tank is backed against the wall and inevitably, against the coral. What makes it worse is that the whale shark has turned in such away it is now swimming up my body so close by the time its head passes me, I can now feel its weight pushing against my body. My right arm is across my chest and I have no option but to break another golden rule. With the its huge weight bearing against me, I begin to push the weight of the shark away from me with my forearm. It may be a juvenile, but damn, it’s heavy!!!!
After a few seconds the shark passes, and thinking that this must be a little than intimidating for my students, I swim left shoulder back towards the lagoon. Looking back, I get a shock to see that the juvenile, literally less than a metre away behind us, follows us into shallower water. At one point I see it move closer behind Deborah’s back, and at the last minute, open its mouth. Its bottom lip touches the base of the tank, and the top lip touches the face of the tank, with Deborah displaying a visible ‘jerk’ from the impact. Never before or ever again have I thought to myself “I wish this whale shark would clear off!”. It then passes us on our left shoulder as I continue into the lagoon to do our safety stop. Now in 6-7m of water, the juvenile came up to us for one last time, within half a metre as we hovered at 5m on our safety stop. It finally turned away and headed back towards Koh Haa 4, following it right shoulder out of sight and ending the most amazing dive I have EVER had.
I would like to stress that whale sharks are in no way aggressive or dangerous. Circumstances beyond my control put me in the position I found myself in. This beautiful, amazing creature which at 4-5m is STILL just a juvenile was just showing an inquisitiveness that in my now five encounters with whale sharks is unsurpassed.
I wish to be adamant that I have learned, agree and actively promote that we strictly passively observe marine life and do not touch. My doing so was strictly to protect my divers and myself from any harm that this gentle giant might have unintentionally caused.
This photo was the only one taken that during the whole encounter, by a snorkeler on the surface: