If there is one thing every diver, recreational or professional wants to see underwater it is the infamous Whale Shark. Elegant, majestic, and absolutely massive – this beautiful creature happens to frequent the waters of Koh Tao and everyone (yes, even people partaking in open water courses!) has the chance that they may come across one.
Although the words “massive” and “shark” may seem off-putting to some, the Whale Shark is something of an anomaly. Although the Whale Shark’s mouth can measure up to 1.5m across, the shark is a filter feeder. It’s diet is predominantly Plankton and Krill, but it will also eat small fish and squid if they happen to fall through the filters inside the Shark’s mouth.
Koh Tao has three dive sites where sightings of this creature are commonplace, especially in the months of March through to July. Chumpon Pinnacle in the north, South West pinnacle in the south and Sail Rock between Koh Tao and Koh Phan
As a going away gift for my first backpacking trip one of my comical mates gave me a travel tips book. This wasn’t your normal travel manual by any means. It included topics like how to stop a runaway camel and how to avoid dying in an airplane crash. The best way to avoid crashing in an airplane apparently according to this book is not to fly. Therefore the best place to see a whale shark is in the water! Most are unsure whether to laugh at my flippant answer, but it’s true, you have to be in it to win it.
So given that you are now in the water, what next? The favorite hang outs of whale sharks on Ko Tao seem to be Southwest Pinnacle and Chumphon Pinnacle. These sites lie around 45 minutes by boat from Ko Tao in almost opposite north and south directions. You must be a certified open water diver at a minimum to dive here yet these sites are best enjoyed as an advanced diver. This will give you the flexibility of depth and enable you to fully enjoy the sites and its inhabitants regardless of whether one of those big spotty leviathans appears out of the blue.
Clearly you also need a large portion of luck, too. I have taught people to dive and seen whale sharks with them on the first dive of their advanced course. I have filmed students on their fourth ever dive with whale sharks swimming around them. I’ve also commiserated over a few cold beers with those who after hundreds of dives here on Ko Tao are still waiting to see them. Ko Tao has therefore created its own superstitions regarding increasing your luck when it comes to seeing the whale sharks. The first rule, like Macbeth, is never to mention them by name. Refer to them as big spotty fish, never ask if one is likely, and never mention them on the way to the dive site or you will certainly jinx the dive. The next is the whale shark call, which for some bizarre reason seems to involve rubbing your nipples. Sometimes it’s best not to ask! [Ed: ok, I’m not asking.]
Regardless of nipple rubbing, you’re guaranteed to have a great time. Get in the water and enjoy the sites and maybe you’ll be blessed with one of the most awesome things you are ever likely to see.