18 Apr 2018

18 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty: Whale Shark

When I was reading previous trip reports of the Atlantic Odyssey, I was excited that the Odyssey had seen Whale Sharks on previous trips. Although Whale Sharks had been seen around St Helena on the previous three Odyssey trips (two in 2015, several in 2016 & a fin in 2017), there were also four trip reports where they hadn't been seen. Overall, the odds looked about even for seeing in St Helena waters. We were told that they appeared at St Helena a few months before the Odyssey, but our arrival was about the time they tended to depart. They are the largest living Fish in the world growing to 12 metres in length & are plankton eaters, so they are no threat to man. Only a few of the largest Whale species are bigger than them. They occur in all the Tropical & warm temperate seas of the world. They are mainly oceanic, however, there are a number of locations around the world where they occur regularly in numbers close to land including St Helena. It has been speculated that these occasions are part of the mating or pupping cycle, but neither event has ever been observed. There is still a lot that is not known about their movements & lifestyle. Seeing a Whale Shark has been one of my life's targets for around 20 years, after the Durlston Dolphin coordinator gave a talk about seeing & swimming with them in Belize. As we arrived in St Helena waters, there were a number of the passengers on the lookout for a Whale Shark. I was still surprised when a shout when up before we even reached the anchor point in Jamestown Bay that there was a Whale Shark on the Port side. To add to the largest animal that ever lived, Blue Whale, we were now watching the largest ever non Cetacean that is still alive. This Odyssey was continuing to look like it was going to be the most successful Odyssey that has been run.
Whale Shark: The initial view of a distinctively notched & pale spotted tail fin
Whale Shark: A better lit photograph helps to show the light & dark spots
Whale Shark: There is also a paler blue glow in the water where the body is stopping the darkness of the sea being seen
Whale Shark: It is possible to see more of the end of the body as the tail fin drops below the water
Whale Shark
Whale Shark: It's a pity that the underwater photos do not convey the full size & shape of the Whale Shark. This is an uncropped image which only just succeeded in getting the tail into the right hand side of the photo & the body to the left
We did well for Whale Shark sightings around Jamestown Bay. Unfortunately, I missed the best sighting of the trip. While I was having lunch ashore on the first morning, a Whale Shark found found to be rubbing its body against the anchor chain. Those passengers who were on the ship were told they could dive in & swim with the Whale Shark if they wanted. It was all too much for one of the Belgium Birders, Olivier, who in his excitement grabbed his life vest from the cabin, which promptly inflated on entering the water. He suffered a lot of jokes at his expense as a result. There were a few great underwater photos of this Whale Shark being passed around that evening. There were another two sightings the following day, including one I found in the late afternoon. On the final morning, there was another sighting around the Plancius. As a result, I canned my free historical tour that I was booked on in the hope we would be allowed to get in the sea with this individual. We were allowed, but not until the last of the tour zodiacs had departed: by which time, the Whale Shark had departed. Still we had a good snorkle on the wreck of RFA Darkdale, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1941 with the loss of 41 crew. This was a very enjoyable substitute & I saw a Green Turtle feeding around the wreck, as well as, large numbers of Fish. There were a final two Whale Sharks seen as the Plancius was sailing away from St Helena on the last afternoon.

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