Friday, August 23, 2013

How Bananas is Swimming with Whale Sharks?

As promised, here is the rundown of our day in the Philippines with whale sharks, "Nature's Gentle Giants."

At first, I just wished they weren't called whale sharks. Our Filipino hosts (Gian, Racel, and Jay) told us we were going to swim with these sharks, and I was afraid of meeting a fate like Quint from Jaws. Of course, the first thing I Googled was "whale shark attacks," and I wasn't reassured when the search produced multiple videos and stories. Nonetheless, I couldn't turn down the opportunity to swim with the big bastards. I mean, they are crazy-cute.

"Hey, FranT, wanna go for a dip with me?"
Whale sharks have very tiny teeth and mostly eat plankton and small crustaceans. At the same time, though, they're still humongous sharks.

They are the biggest fish species in the world, and I'm sure they can do damage with their diesel fins. I also had pretty detailed visions of being swallowed whole by that Grand Canyon of a mouth. (The reason I wouldn't hang out with Jonah from the Old Testament is because the guy lived inside a freakin' fish!)

On the day of the excursion, we woke up at 3 a.m. and drove about three hours before we reached the beautiful landscape of Oslob, Philippines. Apparently, whale sharks wake up at dawn without any regard for people's hangovers.

During the drive, I was extremely excited and not very nervous. I was sure we'd have a training seminar or something before we were allowed to swim with these beasts. I wasn't totally wrong...

There was a seminar, although it lasted about 30 seconds. The only thing I learned was that I could be fined $5,000 or imprisoned for 4-6 years if I tried to ride a whale shark.

Of course, the first thing I tried to do upon entering the water was try to ride a whale shark.

Just kidding. I was actually pretty frightened when I first jumped in. After a couple minutes, though, we were sharing the ocean with some of the coolest creatures I've ever seen.

A bunch of our best photos:

A few other highlights and notable takeaways from the excursion:
--Some Chinese guy was clearly as much of a newbie as us. He swallowed a mouthful of krill and started puking into the water. Alas, we missed the opportunity to take a photo.
--The first time I accidentally swam into the fin of a whale shark, I almost soiled the Pacific Ocean.
--The Filipino language is impossible to understand, but the term for "whale shark" is "whale shark."
--Jellyfish and whale sharks share the same habitat. How do I know? I guess from the jellyfish stings all over my body.

So, how bananas is swimming with whale sharks? I'll let Chris Rock explain:

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