Gigantic tail of passing whale shark nearly clobbers scuba diver

1 year ago

Whale sharks are the largest sharks, and even the largest fish in all of the oceans. With the exception of a few whale species, there are no living animals as large. But despite their massive size, they are gentle and harmless creatures, incapable of biting or harming a human, except by accident. This scuba diver very narrowly missed being one of the very rare casualties of such an accident. The enormous tail swipes past her, coming with inches of her face as she turns just in time to flinch and draw back from the path of the great beast's tail.

Whale sharks inhabit almost all tropical and sub-tropical waters around the globe. They migrate great distances for feeding, mating, and other reasons. But the Galapagos Islands is a very popular spot for whale sharks, especially for the pregnant females. This massive female was observed near Darwin Island and it cruised casually through a group of divers as they explored the edge of the island at a depth of 20m (65 feet). The shark turned lazily as it swam near the thrilled group and each of the divers reacts with great interest as they experienced a close look at this beautiful creature. In complete awe, they swim and move to get a clearer look, and also to stay out of its way. They understand that they are meeting one of the largest and heaviest animals on earth and they must be careful that it does not collide with them.

One of the divers glances briefly to her right, and in that moment, the shark turns and sweeps its massive tail to the right. The tail is just about to collide with her solidly when she looks and adjusts in the nick of time. She cannot move quickly enough to create distance so she tucks herself into a ball and rolls to the side, hoping to lessen the impact and protect her face and her scuba mask. Luckily, the tail misses her by a few inches and she is unharmed. The whale shark swims slowly off, likely unaware of the near miss with the clumsy human behind it.

Whale sharks are filter feeders. When feeding, they swim with their mouths open, consuming small fish, eggs, plankton, and shrimp. They do not have teeth and they cannot bite. Their only means of self defense is to outswim a predator such as a shark or orca, occasionally diving deep as they flee danger. Whale sharks are capable of descending to more than 500m (1,600 feet). They have been recorded at depths of more than 1,900m (6,300 feet) making them the deepest diving fish ever recorded.

The whale shark is poorly understood. Scientists estimate their lifespan to be between 80 and 130 years. They can reach a maximum size of 18m (62 feet) but their maximum weight is simply an estimate. How and where they deliver their offspring is a mystery and few baby whale sharks have ever been observed. Even their mating behaviour is rarely witnessed.

Whale shark research is becoming increasingly important as we struggle to conserve and protect these giants as their numbers decrease. To lose them forever would be beyond a tragedy.

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