Photos of scuba diving with whale sharks near
Yomitan Village, Okinawa during October, 2002.
Whale sharks (elasmobranch: Rhincodon typus) are sharks, not whales. They are the largest fish in the ocean, reaching over 50' (15m) and over 27,000 lb (12,500 kg). They are filter feeders that only eat plankton, as small as 0.04" (1 mm), that they take in through their giant mouths and filter through their gills. Fishermen from Yomitan Village, Okinawa occasionally find whale sharks accidently caught in their nets. A large cylindrical net enclosure has been constructed offshore where whale sharks can be kept. In October, 2002 we arranged a scuba dive trip (through Torii Beach Scuba Locker) to swim with a 28' male and a 26' female. It is only about a 15 minute boat trip from Yomitan out to the submerged enclosure. It cost about $115 to spend about 35 minutes diving with them. My dive buddies were Bill Brodhead, Shane McHale and Dickson Sorensen.
The Yomitan whale sharks were fed 50 lbs (23 kg) of krill before we entered the enclosure. They are very curious and they swam up to us every minute or so to check us out. You can reach out and run your hand over them as they glide by - the top is like sandpaper and the bottom is like a baby's bottom. The most amazing thing is that they are very graceful and always know exactly where you are. Every time it seems that their fins or tail will hit you, they effortlessly flex and miss you by inches while silently gliding by! You are not allowed to grab their dorsals to hitch a ride but it would be quite simple to do so. If you hang motionless in the water 30 to 60 ft down, often they come directly at you, but at the last moment they pass a few inches over or under you. An amazing experience.
On our boat there were 6 American and 6 Japanese divers - all the Americans went inside the enclosure and played with the sharks, but all the Japanese stayed outside the netting. None of the guides on the boat spoke much English, so I wonder if the guides told the Japanese divers something we did not hear about from the dive shop where we booked the trip? Like "Watch the Americans get swallowed whole?"
Sorry that the pictures are not clearer. I was using 200 speed film in a fixed-focus underwater camera that I rented for $10/day from Kadena Marina, and the underwater visibility was poor because of recent storms. This trip was my first attempt at underwater photography.
Petting smooth underside of whale shark.
Female whale shark near top of enclosure.
Dappled back of 28' male whale shark.
Bill tries to race a whale shark.
Face-to-face with a whale shark.
Diver petting male whale shark.
Divers with female whale shark.
Remora on whale shark.
Diver exiting whale shark enclosure.
All Photos copyright 2002 by
RELATED LINKS I FOUND USEFUL (in no particular order):
About Whale Sharks from WhaleShark.Org
Dances with Whale Sharks Japan Update article.
Whale Sharks off Okinawa from AdventureDives.Com
The Whale Sharks of Yomitan from Sport Diver magazine.
Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Australia.
Okinawa Tourist Information
Okinawa Scuba Connection and OSC Book Store.
Okinawa Dive Guru with list of favorite dive locations.
H2Okinawa weather and detailed dive site information.
Fathoms: diving info, plus great Okinawa Information links.
Okinawa Adventure Company: eco-friendly outdoor adventure sports.
John Chandler's In-Depth Photography he has written several books on diving and Okinawa.
Underwater Photography I should have read this before going!
Okinawa Sea Slugs
Whale Sharks in Belize
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and it was last updated on May 15, 2003.