Diving with Whale Sharks-
I have a bucket list, and much like a new years resolution i try every year to check off at least one activity from it. I visited the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta almost 5 years ago, it is the worlds largest aquarium, and saw people diving with their whale sharks and oh boy, was i hooked! Only problem was, i wasn't scuba certified.
Time ticked by and the whale sharks had always been on my mind, and each year that passed i vowed that would be the year i would do it. Eventually after gaining my PADI certification i was ready to take the plunge.
"Journey with Gentle Giants" as the aquarium calls it, is the only opportunity in the world where you are guaranteed to dive with whale sharks, manta rays and much more! The aquarium itself has fish from three different oceans in it, so it truly is a once in a life time experience to see such an abundance of marine life all together.
The aquarium houses 4 whale sharks, measuring up to 27ft in length and roughly about 2500lbs, thats a hella of a fish!
But, then they are FISH, and pose absolutely no threat to me what so ever. Apart from if they were to accidentally plough me down, it would be like being hit by a double decker bus. So, lesson number one, always stay out of their way!
The tank itself contained spotted wobbygongs, zebra sharks, spotted eagle rays, giant guitarfish, sandbar sharks, lesser devil rays, leopard whipray, black blotched fantail rays to name but a few, as well as the whole cast of finding nemo!
However, the 2 creatures that grabbed my attention aside from the whale sharks themselves, were the manta rays and sting rays. I'm sorry Steve Irwin, but you've given rays such a bad reputation now, and yes, it was a freak accident, but i was incredibly nervous that one of the rays would spear me through the heart and i knew to avoid them at all cost!
And then there was the manta rays, these inquisitive creatures can't actually harm me, but they are just soooooo flipping big! Nandi, one of the aquariums residents measures 16ft in wing span!
Its fair to say as i leapt into the water i was nervous! Not only did i have to contend with an unfamiliar ocean world, i was only recently certified as a scuba diver and was desperately trying to remember how to actually do it.
After only a few minutes under water you quickly realize that you are in their territory, these fish are designed to smoothly sail through the water with little effort and all i could think of was how lucky i was to be able to witness this adventure first hand.
Never before, nor never again do i think ill experience water teaming with so many creatures. In every direction that you looked there was the most spectacular sights. Fish that looked alien, some with vibrant colors, schools of fish swerving around in tight units. It was all just fascinating.
One experience that will stay with me, was i looked down and saw a resting stingray i panicked and did not want to swim directly over it (Steve Irwin!) so i quickly swam upwards, my eyes keenly watching the stingray in case it moved, when all of a sudden i felt something grab at my ankle and violently yank me back down. Without realizing i had been swimming upwards and into the path of an on coming whale shark. Trust me, i would have hurt had my dive instructor not grabbed me and pulled me to safety!
Although the whole experience was mesmerizing, i have to say i fell madly in love with Nandi. Apparently Nandi LOVES scuba bubbles, so no matter where we swam in the tank, there she was over our heads doing back flips through the bubbles. You can see her in the video, effortlessly swimming round and round. Her size and and yet graceful body was so remarkable to watch.
The aquarium actually allowed me to take an extra padi certification that you can't do any where else in the world. The Whale Shark Distinctive Speciality Certification, which basically meant we learnt a lot more about the whale sharks and then got the opportunity to get up close and personal. As we can't swim after the sharks, the best way to get a close look would be to predict the direction that they were would be swimming too and then get there before them and watch them glide by.
As Trixie, their biggest whale shark at 27ft skirted around the side of the aquarium, we quickly swam to wedge ourselves between the wall and the fish. She swam by my face, finger distance away and she just kept going and going and going and going and going!! What a long fish! I got to see all the texture of her skin, and the stunning spotty markings she has.
In a word……WOW!!! Just a truly unbelievable experience. Maybe waiting 5 years to do it made it all the more sweeter? And if you hadn't figured it out, thats me in the video always waving and dancing!
I have the bug now, and apparently you can swim in WILD whale sharks on their migration path. Oh, and in the wild they can grow up to 40ft in length!!!! GULP!
Consider it added to the bucket list!
A massive thank you to Georgia Aquarium for making it all possible.