Saturday, June 03, 2023 | Dhu al-Qaadah 13, 1444 H
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Time to swim with gentle whale sharks

Whale Sharks off the Damaniyat Island (3)
Whale Sharks off the Damaniyat Island (3)

Muscat: The Whale sharks, one of the most incredible and elusive creatures on the planet, is back in Omani waters.

These ‘gentle giants’ and their pups usually migrate south to the warmer waters of the southern hemisphere from September to November.

But this year they arrived as early as end of August as they make their way off the Damaniyat Island.

Citizens and expatriates will get an opportunity to dive with these marvelous creatures or get closer to them.

In addition to being the biggest fish in the world, it is the largest animal that is not a mammal. It can live for over 100 years.

Although a member of the shark species, few people know that the Whale shark is, in fact, a type of carpet shark. The Whale shark is a close relative to the zebra shark, which calls the Damaniyat Islands as its home. They generally stay for a month or more before leaving in the direction of Indian Ocean.

They travel all the way to feed on planktons (organisms that live in large bodies of water) and draw large numbers of tourists. At first glance, people get nervous when they hear about sharks of such size; however, these sharks are, in fact, filter feeders. They feed almost exclusively on plankton, which makes them harmless to people.

At Extra Divers Qantab, the divers find that the Whale shark is one of their favourite animals to spot underwater. Martine Gohier, General Manager, M&N Tours by Arabian Shining Touch, says the Sultanate is a blessed country for its nature and whale sharks adventure is one of them.

Martine says that sharks remain close to the surface of the water so we can easily observe them with masks. Snorkeling next to these magnificent animals in respect of their life and environment is an unforgettable souvenir.

“We respect ‘social distancing’ with them and also with all people by accepting only 50 per cent of the boat capacity to families in order to follow the government instructions for COVID-19.”

‘An incredible experience,’ says Samuel Tanon, Operations Director at Oman Tower Company, after he went snorkeling off the coast of Seeb with his daughters aged 8 and 12.

“Whale sharks swim slowly, just below the surface with their huge mouth wide open. My daughters held my hand tightly, impressed by its size, but the Whale shark is incredibly peaceful, and does not seem to be bothered by nearby swimmers. This experience is an opportunity to change our prejudice on sharks. Most shark species are endangered, and deserve protection.”

Gloria Mbaga, a Canadian preschool teacher in Muscat, recalls those 30 minutes of swim with Whale sharks. “It was an extraordinary experience to be with such huge fishes. We watched two girls and baby sharks dive together and enjoyed playing with them. They are gentle and harmless towards people. Being able to see these astonishing creatures completely took my breath away.”

Similar to our fingerprints, there are ways to identify individual whale sharks. Each shark has a unique pattern of white spots and stripes that cover their dark grey back. Whale sharks have five large pairs of gills on the sides of its head, which also carry this pattern. The pattern behind the gills can be used by conservation researchers to keep track of the whale shark populations and study their migration patterns.

Photos by Damiano Filisi, Helder Daravano and Jose Gallas

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