Whale Sharks: Yikes!


It was important to remember they were gentle giants. It didn’t help that I had gotten up while it was still dark and dragged myself onto a speedboat with last night’s rich dinner and good wine still unsettling my equilibrium. The people planning this excursion had been up much earlier than me conferring with Indonesian night fishermen about where the huge fish could be found. After we stopped at several boats to inquire, we were directed to an area of open water where, as the sun peeked over the rocky shoreline, I had my first glimpse of these enormous, graceful, stunningly beautiful–but yes, enormous fish.


Known in academic circles as Rhincodon typus (spotted shark), the whale shark is the largest shark, actually the largest fish alive in the world today. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are between 120-220K whale sharks, however the actual number is unknown because only about 7K of them are tracked. The largest of these animals is 65 feet/20 meters in length! Each whale shark has a unique pattern of spots like fingerprints which allows individuals to be identified.


The good news, I thought to myself as, with snorkel strapped to face I found myself staring into the eyes of one of these gigantic beasts, is that they eat only plankton and aren’t interested in eating humans. Thank heavens, I thought. Though this knowledge didn’t particularly prepare me for the feeling I had when our friendly whale shark in all its mass, with its sharky shape and eager eyes came swimming right at me. I can’t deny I felt a twinge of panic based on the difference between our respective sizes. This must have been how early man felt when stumbling upon a grazing mastodon in Florida 14,000 years ago. This might have been the most intense feeling of visceral fight or flight I’ve ever experienced.


Fortunately, I did neither and just swam in circles with this quiet, curious being, just as my fellow travelers did. After the initial shock, I felt an enormous sense of gratitude and awe at being in the presence of this extraordinary creature. I knew I was in the presence of something magnificent and I count this as one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was a true honor to swim side by side and look deeply into the eyes of this glorious animal.



One of the best things I can wish for you is that you get to have this experience for yourself. Whale sharks are found in all tropical oceans yet choosing a respectful operator focused on conservation for your encounter is essential. At Wild Nectar, we offer two extraordinary journeys with eco-passionate operators that include or focus on swimming with whale sharks.


This land-based program in Mexico’s Yucatan is all about whale sharks and will have you going out two full days to swim with these amazing creatures in addition to seeing other marine life and exploring some local culture. The Indonesia trip I went on, Bali to Komodo National Park on the stylish 30-passenger yacht, Aqua Blu will have you swimming with whale sharks among a host of other truly exciting adventures, including seeing Komodo dragons and snorkeling or diving among some of the world’s most colorful corals.


If you’d like to experience this unforgettable encounter yourself or maybe with someone you love, contact us and we’ll help you locate the trip that’s just right for you. I’ve been to Antarctica, Africa, and India, and I’ve encountered all kinds of animals. This experience ranks among the most exciting of my life!


Like me, you might have some moments of panic looking into those mysterious eyes and facing that enormous size, yet the truth is you’ll be entirely safe and the moments spent with these noble, giant fishes will live in your heart for the rest of your life.