My First Whale Shark

It was still dark outside when the dive boat pulled away from the pier. I was shooting for New Way Diving, first ones to the dive site, a policy I curse them for en route to my 5:45am call time. We had just reached Chumphon Pinnacle and I was halfway through setting up my gear when I heard a primal scream coming from one of the first divers in the water. Instinctively, my heart sank, not knowing the source of the panic.

Then, a more clear call: “Whale shark, underneath you!”

I looked over at the students I was meant to film, still fumbling for their tanks. “I’ll see you in the water!” I cried out to their instructor as I jumped off the side of the boat. I looked around frantically and for a moment I thought I’d missed my chance. Then, emerging out of the blue, I saw it. And I understood that scream. While they may be gentle giants, they are still giants, and even this one, one the smaller side, was larger than any living thing I had ever seen. But it had an even bigger presence, and I felt myself tearing up in my mask.

Whale Shark Koh Tao

For many divers, swimming with a whale shark is the pinnacle underwater experience. They are mysterious creatures, with little being known about their migration, mating, and lives. Part of our reasoning for traveling to Utila last year was it’s status as a whale shark hotspot, along with Mexico, Belize, Madagascar, Philippines, and of course, Koh Tao. Many divers go years without spotting one, as it is all about being in the right place at the right time.

The high I felt at being underwater and being paid to film this animal was overwhelming. I took back all my negative thoughts towards New Way as I was gifted with time in the water with the whale shark and just 10 or so other divers. By the time the dive was over and the word had spread to other boats, there were at least 100+ divers in the water.

I was so shaken by my emotions at my first whale shark sighting that my footage isn’t as daring as it could be. But even my flustered handiwork couldn’t stop this video from being a must-watch. I edited the full movie for students down to a 3 minute clip and have posted it here with permission from the company I was filming for, Fat Fish Movies. In between whale shark clips there is other footage from the dive including massive schools of barracuda and batfish.

I’ll never forget that day, that feeling, that moment.

18 Responses to “My First Whale Shark”

  1. I’m literally crying as I read this. This is SUCH a dream for me. AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BEST POST EVER!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..My Wedding & Honeymoon: Day 6-10 (Part 14)

  2. Laura says:

    I’m speachless Alex. This is just so AMAZING !! Excellent work!

  3. Audrey says:

    What an incredible experience!!! You captured it wonderfully – the whale shark looks so graceful as it swims past!
    Audrey recently posted..Montreal, Je t’aime

  4. Krista C. says:

    So beautiful! What an amazing experience that must have been.

  5. Shirley Gouw says:

    Wow!!! How amazing!!! I was just checking out your blog and didn’t even realize it, untill I started reading it! Amazing! Your one lucky girl!

  6. karen says:

    Hey Sweetie–I don’t even ring up customers–I make them watch your video–it’s a beautiful film–you did a fantastic job–loved your emotion in your writing too. Everyone is enthralled!!!

    • Alex says:

      Ha Karen I love the image of you holding your customers hostage and making them watch my underwater footage :) I’m glad they are enjoying it at least! Thanks for reading!

  7. Nisa says:

    What a great post! I remember the first time I saw a whale shark…it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!

  8. [...] moment I run my blog as well as doing freelance design, writing, and editing, and also work as an underwater videographer.You describe on your blog the fears you had about your initial trip but stuck with the decision to [...]

  9. Karla Stride says:

    WOW! Amazing clip. I’ve been wanting to see the Butanding (Whale Shark) in Donsol, Philippines for the longest time. Thank you for this entry. I will make sure to include it in my itinerary next time I go back home.
    Karla Stride recently posted..Daghang Salamat Cebu

    • Alex says:

      It’s funny you mention that, I’ve been day dreaming about the Philippines lately! I would love another shot to see a whale shark. Once wasn’t enough, now I’m hooked!

  10. [...] of trevally, batfish, and baraccuda. Lucky divers will spot giant barracuda, scorpionfish, and even whale sharks. For those hoping to fun dive, Chumphon is almost always visited on the morning boats.Southwest [...]

  11. [...] of trevally, batfish, and baraccuda. Lucky divers will spot giant barracuda, scorpionfish, and even whale sharks. For those hoping to fun dive, Chumphon is almost always visited on the morning [...]

  12. Can’t believe I missed this post in the fall while on the ship. Most amazing dive EVER. Jealous.
    Camels & Chocolate recently posted..Photo Friday: San Diego, California

    • Alex says:

      Sigh, it really was. Of course it’s never enough and now I’m jealous every time there is a whale shark sighting on the island…

  13. [...] and I saw the elegant lines of the mantas swooping and swimming in the distance. As when I first laid eyes on a whale shark, I felt tears springing in my [...]

  14. [...] impossible to choose. There are the big moments, the ones you tell friends about back home, like swimming with a whale shark in Thailand, skydiving in Hawaii, or scuba diving in glacial water in Iceland. But then there are the little [...]

  15. [...] felt — underwhelmed. I know, I’m spoiled, right? I’ve already been blessed with a fantastic whale shark experience that was so special it had me clearing my mask of tears, so maybe I was greedy to want more. But [...]

  16. […] grant from the Women Divers’ Hall of fame, and completed my divemaster in Indonesia. In between I filmed whale sharks in Thailand, went dry suit diving in Iceland, and went night diving with manta rays in Hawaii. I did my […]

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