The tour began with a short seminar. The group leaders standing in front giving out a brief back-ground of who they are and what they do. It was eight in the morning on a Sunday but many of the attendees didn’t seem to mind. “What we are advocating is sustainable marine tourism. People have to understand that whale sharks are more useful alive than they are dead,” Pierre Frolla, 43, holder of four free diving world records and several others, started.
“In many parts of the world, whale sharks and sharks in general are being killed for their fins. The number grows every year. Once they are killed, that’s the end of it. They don’t come back. In sustainable marine tourism, fishermen and countries get to enjoy them all year round. The in-come flows and what we are about to do will show you why it’s worth to see this gentle crea-tures of the sea alive and in person,” he explained.
SEAOMAN, the marine leisure part of Oman Sail that provides tourists and locals an opportunity to get on, in and under the water in various parts in the Sultanate had made a massive social me-dia campaign for this event running from the last week of September to the first week of Octo-ber. It’s all over the news and over our news feeds and those who are closely watching environ-mental and tourism updates in the country would surely have seen it.
Whale Sharks, the biggest fish in the world, makes this migratory journey every year and Discov-er Sea Oman along with the famous free diver and environmental educator Frolla and his team made it their mission to give the people in Oman the experience of a life time.
“The tour with Pierre ends on October 6 but the whale shark season continues until the end of November so trip bookings can still be made through SeaOman website,” Assim Al Saqri, Public Relations Officer of the company said.
September to November is the annual whale shark season where these fish and their pups migrate. In this short window, divers and snorkelers have a high chance of spotting these glorious giants. As one of the wonders of the world, it is every marine enthusiast and wildlife lover’s dream to one day see and swim with these wonderful creatures.
One on the bucket list
We reached the Al Mouj Marina and saw the hundreds of boats and yachts docked at the bay. One of the two SeaOman establishments – Oman’s premier dive and charter services — is also located at the sophisticated Al Mouj Marina.
Pierre, during the brief seminar, shared that he is working towards setting up an academy where children and adults alike can not only learn sports like freediving and deep sea diving but also give people the opportunity to spread awareness about the importance of keeping the marine life safe and how countries and places can invest in more sustainable methods of earning money whilst saving the marine life.
Along with him was his wife and two others from his team who all explained their roles and what they wish to achieve with this programme.
“Education is very important. What we hope to do is whatever you learn today, you will share it with people you know and in the long run, create this network of awareness regarding our marine resources,” he said.
After the briefing, the group headed to the docks where each person was given flippers and di-vided in groups of 10. Each group was assigned a boat. Our team was assigned with Pierre and Khalid, a highly trained seaman from SeaOman.
They explained to the group what was to be expected, how to prepare and wear the snorkel and mask and how one must interact with the marine life in a way that doesn’t danger the animal or the person. Following the map of the usual routes of the whale sharks, we left shores on a speed boat excited for this experience of a lifetime.
Moving from one spot to the other, all of us along with the Khalid and Pierre kept an eye out at the vast open waters looking for a sign of the giants. After a while and no luck of finding them, we anchored boat and were given the chance to snorkel in the surrounding waters.
For one of the people on the boat, she shared that it was on her bucket list.
“I’ve always wanted to swim with the whale sharks, it’s a bucket list thing,” she shared.
The previous day, Pierre reported that they saw a pod of 11 whale sharks. It also didn’t take long for them to find where they were feeding.
“That’s why they are here — they are usually feeding. When you swim with the whale sharks, as much as possible, stay away where they are headed. You are disrupting their natural cycle. Al-ways stay on the side,” Pierre said.
JUST NOT OUR DAY
Our team spend three hours in the water trying to figure out where the whale sharks are but for-tune didn’t favour us. On Sunday, the whale sharks cannot be found anywhere.
We travelled for miles and miles in the water, everyone hoping to just even find and swim with one but we have to settle down that it wasn’t our day.
“I’ve never been this disappointed in my life,” says one of the attendees.
Although our team missed the whale sharks, the group who went the day after and before our trip were ecstatic about their own personal experiences.
Tracey O’Donoghue who was part of the Saturday group shared on SeaOman’s Facebook page shared that it was a truly memorable day for her. One of her companions on the said trip, Catari-na Castro, thanked the team for their important message of preserving the whale sharks.
The Monday group reported that they’ve seen more than 15 whales in a pod with attendees Anand Vinerkar and Lucie Lyons both sharing that they had the most fantastic of experience.
Although we didn’t see the sharks, taking a few minutes to snorkel and seeing miles into the deep waters and also spotting diverse variety of fish, rays, eels and even a turtle made the trip worth it!
Moving around looking below at the dark abyss, floating and playing with the waves, there was a something exciting and yet calming about swimming and watching the different marine life in their natural habitat.
Although deeply frustrated that our journey wasn’t a fruitful one, we know we shared the same sentiment with our companions. We might not have seen and experienced swimming with the gentle giants on our designated day, there is still the whole month of November to check them out. Even better, we know that they will come back again, if not the next season, the one after that — if only Pierre’s message of sustainable marine tourism is heard and paid attention to by all.
Titash Chakraborty & Yeru Ebuen