Divers travel to Thailand for some of the best diving in the world on both coasts of the country. The Andaman Sea has one of the most coveted reefs with a world top 5 in Hin Daeng and Hin Muang off of Ko Lanta. The most beginner friendly diving in the world is in the Gulf of Thailand where the island of Ko Tao certifies more divers than anywhere else. Diving wise, what both sides have in common despite different ecosystems, is the opportunity to swim with the elusive, friendly, and very curious giant, the Whale Shark.
There aren’t any reefs that guarantee a Whale Shark sighting, and there are some dive masters that I met in Ko Tao, that despite diving every day, have yet to spot one. That said there is always excitement that grows on the diving boats that this dive might be the lucky one. In that case, abandon the dive game plan, and just hang around the Whale Shark being sure to give it space, especially around its tail.
Whale Sharks aren’t dangerous, they aren’t scary hunter. Actualy, they are filter feeders. They are massive – the largest sea animal in the world – and are somewhat playful as they swim in figure eights. There is absolutely no danger to be found swimming alongside, unless of course he sucks you in. I watched a video of an encounter where a diver was almost inside the giant toothless mouth of the harmless shark. The diver was laughing underwater. It looked like an incredible experience.
It was an experience that unfortunately I wouldn’t have. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t see one.
One morning I sleepily stepped out of my beach bungalow and walked to the sea front restaurant. There was the expat owner who looked sorrowful. He asked me if I had seen, and as he guiltily sucked in his cheeks, he pointed to the large corpse 75 meters away that the high tide had left on the shore. A Whale Shark. There was a spectacle of people all around it. Like me, they probably never had seen one before. Unlike me, they were willing to approach the dead animal up close. I decided to skip my morning swim.
That night when I was looking out to sea I had a new perception of what I had been seeing night after night. In the distance, between Ko Lanta and Ko Phi Phi, the sea is polluted with neon green flood lights from fishing boats. They are busy preparing their nets. It became obvious that this particular friendly giant swam up to close and entangled himself in the netting, only to be cut loose when it was all but too late.