Seychelles and the whale sharks

In June 2005 we were diving in the Red Sea close to Ras Mohammed and were very lucky to have seen a whale shark gliding silently passed our dive boat just as we had finished a dive. Some of our group were able to get back in the water and spend a short time snorkelling and filming this rare experience.

This encounter fired up my enthusiasm to snorkel with some of these spotted gentle giants of the sea in a less speculative location. So, when one of my dive buddies called me to say he was organising a trip to the Seychelles to see the migratory whale sharks that pass the islands in the Autumn each year, I jumped at the chance. The trip wasn’t just about whale sharks as we planned to dive the islands in the morning and snorkel with the whale sharks in the afternoon.

We dived with the ‘Underwater Centre’, next to the Coral Strand Hotel where we were booked in for eight days. David and Glynis run a slick diving operation, with everything very well co-ordinated to fit our diving and snorkelling into a eleven-hour slot. Yes, we were at it for eleven hours each day, 08.00 to 19.00hrs - long, exciting days.

We’d leave the dive centre at 08.30 for the two morning dives, then back for a quick pizza, change the kit and e-films ready for the drive to the other end of the island to meet the boats for the ride out to snorkel with the whale sharks. By late afternoon we were all tired out, the sun was sinking slowly in the west and the microlight had to return to base. By the time we got back to the beach and driven to the Hotel it was dark and time for a well earned G & T, a quick shower and dinner at 20.00hrs. I must say it was cheap in the bar as most of the group were early to bed for a well-earned rest after an exciting day.

The islands had some very nice dive sites; 'Shark Bank' with its huge shoals of blue-lined snapper, big-eye, barracuda, catfish and many stingrays on the sand plus octopus and crayfish in most of the holes in the rocks. There were many nice macro subjects on the wreck of the Ennerdale, although the visibility was poor close to the main island.
Spectacular seascapes diving 'Brissare Rocks' and 'Dragons Teeth', snappers, batfish, big stingrays and some stunning multi-coloured sponge covered rocks. However, the excitement built as we sped out to the southeastern tip of the main island in the afternoon to meet the whale sharks. Nothing prepares you for that first encounter with the biggest fish in the sea. Emotions ran high as we climbed back in the boat, tears, silence, incessant chatter, but we all felt exhilarated and at the same time humbled by that first encounter. Guided by our microlight, piloted by Johan, we would receive radio directions to the nearest fish, “300m east, 200m, 50m now on your port bow” would come over the ‘waves’.

Then, “now, right under the boat, go, go, go”, we would slide into the water and there was this awesome sight just a few metres away, gliding along sucking in gallons of water as it followed the plankton trail, often oblivious to our presence.

The microlight plays a crucial part in the 'Marine Conservation Society of the Seychelles' whale shark project to photograph, tag and collect as much data as possible to help with the future management and preservation of this magnificent giant of the sea.

If you would like to do this trip and don’t have a friend to book it for you, then I would suggest contacting ‘Divequest at - they run whale shark trips to the Seychelles, usually September/October.

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