Divers aboard the Galapagos Aggressor had (it's true!) 367 whale shark sightings in one memorable day
This was one of those perfect days of diving in paradise; the highlight of a career. I'm almost embarrassed to tell my old dive buddies about it because they were not there. I can just hear them say, Oh yeah, sure, 367 whale shark sightings in one day, who are you kidding. But it's true, and no one can dispute the story because 15 others witnessed this event.
We set out that August morning to lay claim to seeing the most whale sharks in one day by recording each diver's sightings. The decision was made right after the first dive, when several divers saw 15 sharks from 25 to 50 feet long. On that dive, I saw five whale sharks at one time, two above me and three below, all swimming in no current, which is a rare occurrence in the Galapagos Islands.
Visibility was 100 feet plus, and my only disappointment was that I could not get all five in one shot using a Nikonos with a 15 mm lens. I was, however, fortunate to have along a new three-chip Sony video camera in a Gates housing. My sidekick and buddy shot video while I was busy with the old-fashioned method of 35 mm film. When I ran out of film, I'd shoot some video. The most incredible shot was one our camera could not see (of course), a parade of sharks coming one after another. We got the shot, but because these guys were not moving very fast there's a lot of lag time between sharks.
To the Rescue
On one dive we spotted a pregnant whale shark that had one of her gill plates completely covered with small remoras, which had shut off the flow of seawater. She came to the surface, definitely stressed from the lack of oxygen. I tagged along and, in an act of marine gallantry, plucked more than 24 remoras from the congested gill plate, stuffing the offending fish into my BC pockets and hands.
Once the flow of seawater was restored to the gill plate, the whale shark actually shivered with relief, so much so that I felt the pulses through the water column. The shark then stopped swimming and allowed almost every diver in the group to swim circles around her. I surfaced with the remoras and threw them in the tender, concerned they would go right back down and attach themselves to the whale shark if I returned them immediately to the water. So I took them for a ride to deeper water and set them free. We saw the same pregnant whale shark on every dive afterward, right in front of the Darwin Arch. She was now quite relaxed and clearly no longer stressed. Galapagos sharks, however, were standing by waiting for her to give birth so they could eat the young. This is common, our guides told us; one of the few things we know about these mysterious giant-sized fish. Mysterious or not, the hope for days like this keeps me coming back every year.
Wet and Wild
The day after this perfect day things were back to normal. Currents picked up but there was still plenty of action on every dive. Hammerhead sharks were schooling as usual and there were lots of turtles and clouds of fish. A huge school of jacks was using its combined skills to feed on schools of Creole fish that were spawning, one of the main reasons for the great number of whale sharks.
For the past seven years, we have recorded whale shark interactions at the same place, same time, every June through September, though never before in these numbers.