Divers in Cayman Brac were treated to a spectacular and highly unlikely encounter with the biggest fish in the sea, the whale shark.
The Department of Environment said whale shark sightings are rare. Only ten have been reported to the DOE since its sightings database was established back in 2008.
Last Saturday (9 February), guests and crew of Reef Divers Cayman Brac had an opportunity to swim and snorkel alongside one of these majestic creatures, for an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime encounter.
Check one off the bucket list. Nick Bufton of Reef Divers Cayman Brac and dive guests were finishing a dive at Butterfly reef on the island’s south side when the improbable happened.
“I noticed something big in the water just ahead of the boat, and as it got closer we identified that is a whale shark, big one as well,” said Mr. Bufton.
Whale sharks are the largest known species of fish, growing up to 41 feet in length.
The gentle giant encountered Saturday on the Brac is estimated to have been about half that size, about 18 to 20 feet in length.
“I got my mask and fins and jumped in and had a little look, and there he was, feeding on the surface. It was pretty awesome, he cruised right by the back of the boat and kept going,” said Mr. Bufton.
By the time all the divers were back on board, the whale shark was gone, but other Reef Divers staff were on the case, re-locating the whale shark a short distance to the west.
“Eventually one of the divemasters spotted it in a really shallow patch reef close to a dive site called Sergeant Major,” he said. “From there we just let everybody get into their snorkel gear and slide in, and spent a good 20 minutes or half an hour with it. It was pretty awesome.”
It didn’t take long before other dive boats arrived, eager to see the enigmatic whale shark for themselves.
“Most people, pretty much everyone who was in the water that day got to see it, which is pretty amazing for everyone as I’m sure you can imagine, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most people,” said Mr. Bufton.
There’s currently no robust estimate of the global whale shark population, but the species is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Aside from the Mediterranean, whale sharks can be found in all temperate and tropical oceans around the world and migrate thousands of miles to different feeding grounds.
Whale sharks can’t bite or chew. Their massive mouths stretch open to a width of four feet to strain out small shrimp, fish and plankton from the water.
A whale shark can process more than 6,000 litres of water per hour through its gills.