Janine Douglas: Close encounters - out of the blue a shark I didn’t recognise appeared!

By Janine Douglas

Before starting my volunteer placement with LAMAVE I knew I would be spending plenty of time in water with the largest fish in the ocean, Whale Sharks, little did I know the close encounter I was soon to experience.

It all started late in the day, we had almost finished our time in the water. When out of the blue a shark I didn’t recognise appeared. As the shark was unknown to me, my first reaction was to ensure I took a good set of ID photos. After that I needed to make note of the sharks gender, approximate size and behaviour. This is where it started to get strange. Whilst the sharks here are not completely shy, they usually don’t take a huge amount of notice of us, just swimming on by. This shark however was different.

He seemed to be very interested in what I was and what I was doing. Whilst I stayed stock still in the water, he would swim loops around me, coming right up with his giant eyeball just inches from my face. This behaviour continued for over an hour, sometimes one of us would swim away from the other, only for Wilfred (as I’d already decided to name him, don’t ask me why!) to find me again and continue his thorough investigation of me.

It was such a beautiful humbling experience that I didn’t want to get out of the water, even though my session was already well and truly over. The highlight of this hour was when I dived down to take a look at something on the ocean floor, and Wilfred followed me down, and back up again to the surface, belly to belly, as if we were a pair of synchronised swimmers.

All the while I was wondering what exactly was going through this majestic creatures head. Was he acting on pure instinct? Was he conscious of himself and therefore our differences, could he tell that I was friend and not foe. Or was he just scoping out his next meal……

Once Wilfred had finally had enough of me, and continued on his journey into the unknown I was filled with a sense of wonder, privilege to have experienced such and encounter, and also a deep sense of loss of a blossoming friendship. It sounds strange but I felt like we had formed a true interspecies connection.

However this was not to be the last time I met with Wilfred. It was a long month before he would visit our survey area again, but when he did I recognised him instantly. And to my utter joy, he seemed to remember me too. After only a short while he started the circling and investigating behaviour that had made him so memorable to me. I even received another couple of winks.

It’s probably not fair to have a favourite animal when collecting scientific data, but I couldn’t help think of Wilfred as my number one sharky pal. Even out of the 50+ I had encountered during my 3 months volunteer placement with LAMAVE.

Janine Douglas is one of LAMAVE’s 2018 volunteers for our whale shark research project. Originally from the UK, she is a scuba and freedive instructor, who loves the ocean and especially underwater macro photography. An avid traveller she has visited over 40 countries, and dived in 15 of them!

Janine freediving for whale shark IDs.

Janine freediving for whale shark IDs.

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