In hunt of the elusive Whale Shark
1/20/12 - 1/22/12
After a few days at Bottle Beach, my head/chest cold was almost gone. And I felt confident enough to go diving within the next couple of days. (Can't dive with sinus issues.)
Along with 14 other tourists, we headed over to Chaloklum Bay -- a small and, at times, beautiful fishing village on the north side of Koh Phangan. We booked two dives with Chaloklum Diving at the famous site Sail Rock.
We didn't bring our cameras, so here's someone else's photo. Thanks Brianlegg.
Sail Rock is an intimidating (to the novice diver) pinnacle that rises out of the Gulf of Thailand between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It's often hailed as some of the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand as the sides of the rock are coated in all kinds of coral, soft sponges and clams and lots of fish hang out there. A divemaster at Chaloklum called it "fish soup out there." Most divers come to Sail Rock in hopes of seeing the elusive whale sharks that often hang out near the rock. According to our divemaster, the whale shark enjoys "scratching his back" on one of the pinnacles. There's also a chimney, or hole within the rock, that divers can swim up from 18 m and exit at 10 m.
After about an hour on the boat, we reached Sail Rock. It was pretty intense, seeing this giant rock just looming in the middle of the ocean. But our instructor, Kris, a French girl with a heavy accent, was a no nonsense kind of instructor. Into our suits and equipment and into the water we went, leaving me little time to change my mind about going under.
We snorkelled over to the rock and prepared to descend. But as I looked down into the water, checking my mask's seal, I could see incredibly far down. I could see the bubbles from the other divers below floating up. "That looks awesome," Avery said. I did not feel the same way. I fiddled with my mask for what seemed like forever until I had built the courage to deflate my BC vest. I gave Kris the okay symbol, pressed the deflate button and down we sunk.
This is the worst part of the dive for me. First, I'm trying to control my breathing. Secondly, I'm trying to control my body's urge to swim for the surface. It's amazing how loud those primitive survival instincts can be. And thirdly, I get all anxious about letting too much or not enough air out of my BC, causing a nasty crash into the coral below.
But then, I stop sinking. I get my breathing under control. And I have that wonderful sensation one gets from having a dream about flying. I'm suspended in the water, watching the fish swim by. Then I flop over on my stomach and kick in long, slow sweeps. I listen to the air leave my regulator, fill my lungs, then watch the bubbles float up as I exhale. SCUBA diving is truly wonderful once one gets the hang of it.
So anyway, we descend, slowly circling the massive rock that grows even larger under the water. Though the visibility is shit (only 5-7 meters), it's still amazing. Their is life all around us. Sail Rock is covered with the most beautiful coral and sponges. We saw quite a few maroon clown fish families swimming the anemones on the rock as well.
We continued to circle the rock, heading further and further under the surface. I'm not sure how many times I had to equalize my ears. But I remember it was a lot. We eventually got down to 18 meters.
While farther from the surface, we met up with three divers who were intently staring at the coral on the rock. We turned to see what they were staring at. There, on the surface of the coral, a yellow moray eel moved across the coral, sweeping along like a snake in S-shaped movements.
Avery, Kris and I just watched it as it moved, opening and closing its mouth to allow the water to pass over its gills. Despite being so far under the water, the eel's colour was bright like a ripe banana. (FUN FACT: This was actually a green moray eel, but they have a mucous coating that gives them the yellow color!) Moray eels are the only sea creatures that truly creep me out. I'd rather encounter a shark than an eel. I thought that if I ever encountered one while diving, I would surely swim away, thinking about how the bite from a moray eel will fester for weeks because their mouths are absolutely filthy, full of bacteria.
Example given (Thanks Cameron Park Zoo for the photo):
But, in that moment, all I could do was stare in wonder and amazement at this creature wiggling before me. I wasn't afraid, just in awe. Granted, this was a really small eel. If it had been a full grown adult, I'm sure I would have kicked my ass all the way to Koh Tao. Anyway...
We also saw a lot of beautiful schooling fish around the rock, like banner fish, barracuda, huge batfish, and, oh yes, the triggerfish. Before the dive, Kris warned us about the territorial triggerfish that hang out at Sail Rock. They can get very large and can be very aggressive. If you're diving and see a triggerfish on your right and a reef shark on your left, swim to the left. Triggerfish bite. Hard.
So at least five times while we were diving, Kris would give us the hand signal for triggerfish, which is, you guessed it, like shooting a gun. Then we would flip on our backs and swim backwards with our fins kicking pointing at the triggerfish. This way, he would bite our fins instead of our bodies.
That got annoying real fast. Every time we would see something cool on the reef, it seemed like a stupid triggerfish would swim our way, and we'd have to swim away. Damn triggerfish. But a quick Google search reveals the fish do attack recreational divers quite often. Oof. Terrifying. Those suckers are huge. Here's a picture, compliments of Ze Eduardo:
And here's a video of a triggerfish attack.
And, alas, no whale shark sightings that day. But it was still an amazing experience. We did two 40-minute dives that day. After that second dive, I decided I really enjoy it. I hear there are some good sites in Vietnam, so I'm really looking forward to being able to do it again!
I also got a wicked wetsuit tan that shows no sign of disappearing...sigh.
Over and out.