Life’s Bucket List: Whale Sharks
Whale sharks (Rhincodon Typus) are the biggest fish in the ocean. Juvenile sharks measure between 4-7.5m long. The largest adults can go up to 20m+ and weigh 60 tons as much as an African elephant. These “Gentle Giants of the Sea” are iconic for their beautiful dotted patterns, which marine scientists use to identify and track the individuals overtime.
Whale sharks are found in tropic waters from South East Asia to Central America to East Africa. Even though their migration patterns are not fully understood, they tend to correspond to the seasonal blooming of their food around the world: Planktons – It’s hard to believe these giants can grow to this size without eating other fish! They open/close their mouths as a pump when feeding actively; during passive feeding they go completely vertical, an absolutely euphoric, magnificent spectacle. If you happen to be in the water, take that as a “Do Not Disturb” sign and keep your distance of at least 10 meters.
Everyone should see a whale shark at least once in their lives, not just because they’re the largest fish in the sea, but also:
Because like the rest of their family, whale sharks have fallen victim to the global shark finning industry and gone from abundance to endangered in 30 years. The average size of the sharks spotted these days also has decreased. Similar to the island countries that will disappear in the near future with rising sea level – try to see them while they’re still here.
Because they will overturn everything you knew about… Jaws. They aren’t blood sucking carnivores – they don’t even have teeth to bite or chew flesh. They are extremely docile and slow moving creatures you can swim along (with no special equipment or skills)! They might bump your boat – only because of their tiny eyes and poor vision.
And because – they will teach you everything about life. August 2015 Cocos Island Costa Rica, sharks became “my thing”. Here I also first learned about whale sharks while finding peace not seeing them; met Randy who dove and was healed by Cocos two years prior:
Instead of making me wish I never had to go back, I received a different message from the island’s avalanche of life: nature is resilient and powerful and, overtime, unstoppable. Everything I encountered underwater that day embellished and expanded the first day’s lessons. Life on earth was not only inexorable and irreversible, it was humbling and beautiful beyond any means of human expression, and it had been that way for eons. What I experienced that day was just a couple of hours in the ocean’s endless march of time, completely unexceptional in one respect and utterly exceptional in another.
Then I beheld the night sky as I floated on my back. If the sharks of Cocos Island said one thing about my place among living things, the darkest sky of my life said another. With the nearest light pollution hundreds of miles away, and the moon absent like an unwelcome relative who knows better than to crash the party the milky way took the shape of a large ethereal cloud surrounded by other smaller clouds, our home star’s galactic environment the most prominent among many.
The infinite sky, the life-gorged sea, and the timeless island that stood between them could have made me feel insignificant beyond anything I could express or give form to. My conclusion that night in the hammock under the back sky speckled and smeared with light just now reaching me from millions of years ago: I am healthy, I live with people who love me, and I them, and I live on a planet, and a community within that planet, that gives me everything my soul requires, even if I sometimes lack the faith or spirit to perceive it.
The first time to be dawned on by a whale shark in the open sea, you’ll be in awe – of nature’s most impossible creation, how infinitely minuscule we are, the mismatched velocity of time and life. And you’ll understand why the above paragraphs have touched me until this day.