Close Encounters of the Breathtaking Kind.

 

The sun had not yet risen as we assembled our dive kit and loaded the boat ready for our early morning dive. Silence hung in the pre-dawn air, and as we set off, the noise of our engines carried deafeningly over the glassy water.

We were hoping to find a Thresher shark; magnificent animals reaching up to 6m in length, with tails as long as their bodies; elegant, sleek and streamlined as they glide effortlessly through the water.

One of the few places in the world where Thresher sharks can regularly be seen is the Monad Shoal, an underwater island off the coast of Malapascua in the Philippine Visayan Sea. The large pelagic creatures visit the area every morning to take advantage of cleaner fish that rid them of dead skin, dirt and parasites.  It’s a kind of Spa and Detox resort for ocean dwelling fish. Divers from all over the world flock here in the hope of glimpsing and photographing these impressive animals, and today it was our turn.

Getting to the island was an epic journey in itself.  The first stage was easy and comfortable as we drove to the airport by car.  At the airport, the passengers and their baggage were carefully weighed before boarding a plane to Cebu. From Cebu airport, we took the most popular form of transport in the Philippines, a brightly painted jeepney, to the north of the island, and from there, a traditional outrigger boat known as a banca took us to the tiny island of Malapascua itself.

The dive began unremarkably with no sign of sharks, but as we reached the end, my buddy signalled he was low on air; we should start our ascent.  At that moment, out of the gloom came a ghostly shadow.  This was it, the sharks had appeared, ready for their close up.  Huge, solid silvery beasts, their long tails trailing behind them like sails.  As they cruised around the group of divers for a second look, their knowing eyes made contact with ours as if they had come to look at us, rather than the other way around.

I checked my contents gauge and still had more than half a tank full of air.  We had travelled so far, and waited so long for this encounter with the Threshers, surely we couldn’t leave just as the party was about to start.  It was a split second decision; I grabbed my second regulator and offered it to my buddy. We could share the air in my tank and spend a few extra minutes with these incredible beasts.

Two, or maybe three sharks emerged from the blue water, circled us and disappeared once again.  We stopped, hovering in the water, watching in awe these beautiful, vigorous fish glide effortlessly around us, almost close enough to touch.

Time was suspended, but our air supply limited, we must return to the surface.

Dawn had broken by the time we climbed breathlessly back into the dive boat, still buzzing from our encounter.

A pale yellow light tinged the wisps of cloud on the horizon. Already other groups of divers were arriving and preparing to dive, but for us it was time to return to land and marvel at our close encounter over breakfast.

 

 

 

 

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