Whale sharks are the world's largest known fish species. In fact the largest non-cetacean (whale/dolphin) animal on the planet. Being pelagic, they live in the open sea but not at the greatest depths of the ocean. Whales sharks prefer tropical waters and are rarely seen in waters below 22 degrees centigrade. They are ovoviviparous, that is, the female's eggs remain in the body while pregnant and they give birth to live young. Whale sharks are estimated to live as long as humans, between 70 and 100 years. Since they do not reach sexual maturity until around 30 years old, whale sharks are considered 'vunerable' by the IUCN. Sadly whale sharks are still hunted in some parts of Asia such as Taiwan and China where their fins are thought to have medicinal properties. While these gigantic creatures spend most of their lives far out 'in the blue', they infrequently visit to the tropical reefs to feed off the blooms of plankton, fish eggs and indeed small fish and squid. Here, they are also cleaned by other specially adapted fish in a symbiotic process. In this clip, Remora and Wrath fish are seen attached to the whale shark's body. This particular whale shark was filmed at Richelieu rock in the Andaman sea off the west coast of Thailand. Richelieu rock is a world-famous diving site near the Similan and Surin Islands close to the border with Burma. Richelieu rock is a short hop from the so-called 'cleaning stations' of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. Legend has it that the under-sea pinnacle, Richelieu rock, was so-named by the father of modern scuba diving, Jaques Cousteau, after he was shown the site by a local fisherman. It is covered in swathes of soft purple corals, which to Jacques Cousteau had the appearance of Cardinal Richelieu. The camera in this film appears closer than it actually is in some shots. Despite being an awe-inspiring moment for everyone there, and certainly the highlight of any recreational diver's adventures, it is important to make the point that even in the great excitement, the whale shark was not touched at all by anyone. At approximately 5m long, this whale shark is a young adult. It seemed to have a small injury on its front left gills - probably the result of another shark attack when younger or a collision with a boat. It is an extremely rare event for a diver to see a whale shark. Although eco-tourism is on the rise, it is comforting to know that usually not that many divers are in the area at the same time. And that every diver filmed in this video has paid a USD$50 fee to the Thai government for the upkeep of the Similans national marine park. And for each boat crew working with dive-tourists, and making a better living than fishing, so they are less a threat to marine life and very much leading the conservationist programme. It just so happened that on this particular dive, the divers of several boats all arrived at the same lucky moment - and that of course accounts for all the bubbles - sorry for that. In any event, some marine biologists believe the fish are naturally curious of divers and enjoy the bubbles. I hope this film will assist any environmental efforts to protect whale sharks and their habitats. For avoidance of doubt - this was a natural encounter with a whale shark in its natural habitat - no baiting or feeding whatsoever.
Duration: 3m 40s