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whale sharks by Ken Sullivan

As the temperature of the Red Sea warms up Umbi seems to have found a new best friend (NBF) and the rest of us are very jealous. Most evenings, when Umbi is aboard MY De Lara, a whale shark passes by to say hello. Presumably it was the same whale shark that passed by Sharks Bay on Saturday evening – so we are hopeful it will come and pay us another visit soon.

Most years whale sharks are not commonly seen in the northern Red Sea until the end of May. This year seems to be different in many ways – some good and some not so good – but the early arrival of the whale shark is definitely a good thing.

These wonderfully majestic creatures are normally only seen here in the summer months as the warmer waters result in a plankton bloom which brings in the filter feeders such as whale sharks and manta rays. These much loved, gentle giants grow on average to 10 – 12 metres in length, although they have been known to reach a staggering 20 metres length and weigh in at 20 tonnes. Despite their huge size, and even though they belong to the shark family, they are docile, filter feeders that cruise the world’s oceans looking for plankton.

While our planet’s largest fish has few known predators (although the blue marlin and blue shark will sometimes prey on juveniles) they are still on the verge of extinction and have been listed as a ‘Vulnerable’ species by The World Conservation Union. The most significant threat to them is sadly from us humans. The whale sharks’ large size, slow speed and habit of swimming at the surface make them easy to kill. And, although their skin can be up to 14 cm thick, they are still vulnerable to fishing and injury from boats. They may also swallow floating plastic rubbish causing injury or death.

A number of non-profit organisations work hard to protect this wonderful fish from over exploitation and from the very real threat of extinction. As for etiquette when diving with whale sharks, as on all dives, you should look but not touch.

 

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