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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

Mother of All Ocean Safaris!!!

MOZAMBIQUE | Monday, 16 April 2012 | Views [770]

Yes I was that close!

Yes I was that close!

Perhaps there may be more exciting ocean safaris to come, but as of now, the one on 16th April is the one to remember!

I haven't had much luck at ocean safaris (there were the whale shark and dolphins that others saw but not me, and the empty-handed / whitewater rafting safari), so I did not have high hopes.  Maybe I got a bit superstitious, so for this ocean safari, I decided to switch from sitting on the left to the right, maybe there's better "feng shui" on the right (I know that's lame, but there is gambling involved here too).  At least the conditions were good this time so the boat ride was not stomach-churning.  About 25 minutes in, a manta was spotted (they are spotted by the dark, diamond-shaped shadow near the water surface).  I was slow in getting my fins on, so everyone else already jumped but I was still on the boat; no matter, the skipper told me to wait and drove the boat nearer to the shadow since it was swimming away, so I jumped in much closer to the manta than everyone else, lucky me!  As soon as I was in the water, there it was, a giant manta swimming (or as I like to say, flying) from my right to the left, within two meters of me!  I stayed to the left and behind it as soon as it passed me and stayed within two meters of it during our encounter (I counted in my head, we swam together for at least 30 seconds, then it picked up speed and I lost sight).  The top of the manta was black with a light, almost white edge, and the texture of the skin looked almost like velvet, it was gorgeous.  Everyone else had reached it by then also so we all saw it.  We climbed back into the boat and followed the manta for a while; we ended up jumping into the water at least five times to swim with the same manta, and I saw and/or swam with it every time, what an awesome feeling!

After almost 45 minutes with the giant manta, we lost sight of it, and kept going south for about half an hour.  Seeing nothing more, we turned around to head back.  A few dolphins jumped out of the water briefly, so the boat headed that way for a closer encounter; they were too agile and fast for us though, and we lost sight of them before anyone could jump in.  About this time, we thought we saw a manta shadow on the water surface again, so we headed that way, thinking it may be the same one from earlier; another ocean safari boat was in the vicinity and its passengers were already in the water, and as we got closer, they indicated to us that no, it's not a manta, but a whale shark!!!  We all got crazy excited and rushed to put our gear on; again I was slow and everyone else jumped in except me, but just like before, the skipper drove the boat towards the direction where the "shadow" was moving and told me to jump in then.  I did and HOLY $HIT, the WHALE SHARK WAS HEADING IN MY DIRECTION!  It was no more than two meters away at this point!  I swam away quickly (recalling the "code of conduct" of staying at least three meters away) until it passed me, and then I followed it from a safe distance to its left (though less than three meters away, it was hard to stay back so far!)  I know whale sharks are large, and this fish did not disappoint.  It swam very majestically:  the head and top half of the body were quite still, while the bottom half where its (precious) fins were swayed gently from side to side.  It had beautiful spots and stripes on its body, just like in the photos I saw, and looked like it had no nicks or scars on its fins.  I counted in my head again and think I followed it for at least 30 seconds before it sped up and lost me.  Think my heart was racing and I was screaming into my snorkel the entire time.  

Once gone, we all popped onto the surface, removed our snorkel, and gave a collective scream.  We saw a whale shark!  The boat came to us and pulled us back in quickly, so we could follow it farther along.  We repeated this four more times, and at least two other times, the whale shark was within two meters coming towards me as soon as I got into the water.  I know whale sharks don't eat humans, but it's quite intimidating when this massive fish is swimming towards me and it can easily consume me.  One guy managed to dive deep enough to see the whale shark's "privates" and confirm it's a male (whale shark lesson:  similar to humans, males have external sex organs known as claspers, two of them in fact, while females have internal sex organs); we estimated it to be between 6 to 7 meters long (our boat was almost 6 meters and it was definitely longer than the boat).  No one got a photo ID shot though; with just a snorkel, it was difficult to have enough air to dive to the same level as the whale shark, swim next to its gill area, while trying to focus and take a photo, underwater photography is tricky and takes practice!)

By the fifth encounter, I almost felt like we were "invading" the whale shark's privacy and preferred to leave it alone.  The skipper shared the same sentiment and felt we've "disturbed" it enough, plus we were about an hour past scheduled end time, so we headed back with a huge grin on everyone's face.   Even the skipper jumped into the water twice to swim with the whale shark (his assistant took over the boat), and he was as exhilarated as we; he was even more excited when he found out this was the first encounter for two passengers (me and another volunteer), think he felt proud to have helped us accomplish this feat.

We didn't want to gloat too much back at the house (only five of us were on this ocean safari out of ten volunteers), but we couldn't help ourselves!  Everyone was pleased for us though; the table could have easily turned.  Personally, my feeling towards ocean safaris have changed dramatically; I know it won't be like this every time, and there will be other "shut out" safaris, but if this is the most exciting one, I'll take it!  And it DID pay off to switch sides and sit on the right after all, HA!

Tags: giant manta, ocean safari, tofo, whale shark



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