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Arthur Gerla

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aug '11

Whale shark spotting

On recent liveaboard diving trips in the Maldives I was fortunate enough to see a few whale sharks and snorkel with them. These plankton eating giants gather at certain spots during their oceanwide migrations to feed in warm shallow water. Being in the right place at the right time allows snorkelers to swim along until their stamina runs out.
The encounters, while magical and breathtaking, left me with an unsatisfied feeling. Not only did it take forever to spot a shark or two, but the animals were frequently harassed to the point that I left the water rather than watch the spectacle of dozens of tourists chasing the poor creature off into the deep. I need to get away from the crowds.



The problem with whale shark spotting is this: They are bloody hard to spot! As much as you try, you can only see so far from a boat.The shark will most likely be just below the surface so unless the animal is less than twenty meters or so away or you get lucky because a fin breaks the surface you spend as much time watching the other boats as you do peering in the water. If a boat suddenly manoeuvers and proceeds to disgorge its load of snorkelers you hurry over and join them because obviously they’ve found one!

Now if we managed to spot two sharks in a mornings sailing up and down the new airstrip at Maamigili, surely there must have been at least a dozen of those gentle giants around. The problem is the limited area you can survey from the sun deck of the safari boat. Using some kind of sonar or fish finder or trailing an underwater camera along like a reverse periscope doesn’t increase your range a lot. For a while I was stumped, but then I had a rather brilliant idea.

Here’s the plan: I’m going to spot whale sharks from the air.

To be continued.

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