“Bucket list item number one: swimming with whale sharks”
In Gorontalo, North Sulawesi, I finally got to tick off that bucket list item!
Whale sharks (Rhincadon typus) are the world’s largest fish, growing to more than 12 metres – the same length as our sailboats – and weighing more than twenty tonnes! They are gentle giants though, swimming around serenely with slow flicks of their tail, and filter-feeding on plankton and small baitfish with large toothless mouths. They looked like giant tadpoles!
Whale sharks have been spotted at Gorontalo in North Sulawesi intermittently for several years. A World Wildlife Fund study in 2016 identified 19 small males visiting the area. Just like a fingerprint, their patterns of spots allow them to be distinguished as individuals. Two came to visit the day we swam with them.
We had planned to visit Cenderawasih Bay in West Papua, the only place where whale sharks are seen year-round, but now that we’ve had this lucky opportunity, we may not make that detour. In any case, we still have our fingers and toes crossed that we spot more during our sailing adventures. An incidental and intimate encounter would be phenomenal. They are such amazing creatures!