Philippines, there I was, a twelve-year-old boy, with one dive under his name. Looking at an A4 sheet of paper with on it the fish a Padi diver can encounter in the Red Sea, when my eyes wandered across an unusual shark: “Wale shark (18m).” From that day forth my mind, heart and soul were on a quest. Over a decade and 100 dives later this passion was still simmering on the water surface. When the opportunity had arisen before my fellow holiday travelers and I to search for the peaceful giant of the sea in Donsol, Philippines.
Diving equipment is not needed. With our fins and snorkel in our hands we are looking into the ocean for the giant. We heard that up until now this was the first week where finding the shark was a success. We are sitting on a 6×1 meter boat with bamboo sticks on each side for balance, not knowing what this shark would look like above the water. When asking the guide his response was a simple:
“Just look out for a big black spot on the water”.
Understood! We are no longer than five minutes off shore when one of the men keeping watch on the peak of the boat yells something in Filippino and points towards a spot located in front of the boat. A blob so big it makes my blood pressure rise quicker than the speed of light. The adrenaline races through my head as I see us pass by the monster. We sit on the edge of the boat and wait for the signal.
“Go, go, go!”
The guide yells and whilst the boat is going I jump after the others. I hear the propeller rush past me as the boat continues to get out of our way. Now I am in the water and feeling disoriented. I look towards the guide, who gestures me to look down. I remember thinking to myself:
“I can barely see my fins, how can I see the one of a shark?”
Not a split second later the mouth of a colossal fish makes its way through the poor visibility towards me. It must have been over a meter wide. I swiftly pull my legs up so it would not swim into my fins. I am floating there in the feeble position as I think of the warning signs I read just before jumping into the water: Stay 3 meter from the mouth and 4 meters from the tail.
“How is that possible if it is swimming a meter under me?!”
The adrenaline makes my heart pump faster than it ever did. It seems minutes before the tail of the shark has disappeared from under my legs and I turn around to swim after him as fast as I can. The visibility is very poor and I lose sight of the shark a few times. Every time I find it back a quick shock fights its way through my every nerve, as if a bomb goes off inside my stomach. Imagine knowing that here is an estimated 8 meter shark swimming about a meter away from you, but you just cant quite see where it is! You can compare the length of the shark with a truck, a small airplane or 5 times the size of me! After five minutes we resurface only to think back of the moment I come face to face with one of earths most beautiful sea creatures. May I see you again brother, one day! Seeing that the rare 18 meter whale shark is known to be over a 100 years old and so most probably will live longer than me it is possible!
(The following footage of the whale shark had been taken the second day of the search. This shark was approximately 6 meters long. My apologies for the poor video footage, due to my excitement and vast swimming I was not looking at the camera whilst recording, nonetheless I think it gives quite visual of what I felt when I literally came face to face with the whale shark)