Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sharks seen at Malapascua June 19, 2012 - Thresher, white-tipped, whaleshark

My logged dives #1125-1127

Our first full day at Malapascua met expectations, except that Bobbi was disappointed in the visibility. It was ok, about 20 meters, but looking for thresher sharks in the morning was like trying to see behind a veil.  However, on our dive, as we worked our way down past 30 meters, the dive guide pointed with his tank banger.  The thresher shark peeked in from the haze and passed as through a sheet of gauze, then returned whence he'd come with a casual flick of his long tail.  A minute later he was back in a similar appearance. We remained as we'd planned until we came within 5 minutes of deco.  New to this I'd slipped down to 36.7 meters by then, peering into the deep, then turned to follow our group up over the sand patches writhing with hundreds of garden eels, then atop the reef at 20 meters and back to to the permanent mooring line, and up that about 40 minutes into the dive.  We had come to see thresher sharks, so this first dive was a thrill.

Our next two dives were on a day trip to Gato Island.  We did two dives there, circumnavigating the island on the two of them.  The high point of the two dives was rounding a corner and finding a group of large white-tip reef sharks, very large ones, the largest perhaps 4 meters, resting on the bottom posing for photographers.  The divers present rested themselves as well and watched as the sharks roused from rest as they became aware of bubbles in the vicinity and lazily took off and circled towards us then settled a little distant, and as the divers edged forward, this was repeated until eventually all actors in this little dance lost interest or had gone their separate ways.

Apart from the 'big guys' the best things about these dives were micro. The dive guides were adept at finding and pointing out smaller game, such as banded sea snakes, cleverly disguised stone fish, tiny nudibranchs the size of a small toe nail, shrimps and crabs concealed in coral, and such like.

Back at the dive shop, we were waiting on the boat to bring our gear when the shop managers were alerted that a shark had been spotted in the water.  Bobbi and I happened to be in earshot and we managed to get aboard the small outboard that the staff were scrambling onto to investigate.  We headed toward where another boat was tracking the animal, which appeared as a dark splotch in the clear green water.  When we got near enough we could see it was a whale shark, about 6 meters long.  This caused a lot of excitement, as most people there had never seen one before.  The other boat it turned out had been bringing dive gear off the Gato Island boat, and my box happened to be on it, so I swam over and retrieved my mask, fins, and snorkel.  Then when the boat again found the whaleshark, I was able to go in and swim alongside.  I did this several times over the next 45 minutes.  Whalesharks are casual swimmers when they want to be, but when they want to they move powerfully and can be hard to catch up with. When I was fresh in the water, I was able to swim along with him 5 minutes or so, but then let him go.  The second time I tired trying to keep up with him after just a few minutes.  But by the third time, when by now half a dozen boats had made it out to us, the whaleshark was starting to tire and did not appear to be swimming so forcefully.  When we left the scene the number of boats and swimmers in the water had doubled, and we were yelling to the newcomers not to touch it, as some were grabbing at its dorsal fin in hopes of riding it.  The animal was confused and swimming in circles, but dusk was just an hour away, and it wasn't there in the morning so it must have found its way and escaped to sea.

I've learned to keep my hands off whalesharks, but not everyone is environmentally aware.  Apparently whalesharks are an almost unheard of occurrence in Malapascua.  One of our divers got a video of the swim which I hope we can post here.

Just one small thing, if you're coming to Malapascua and wondering where to stay, we were told we could get a room on spec at Blue Coral, which is just a few steps away and well within sight of Thresher Shark Diver's shop. We went on Trip Advisor and found that the hotel that Andrea seemed to favor, the Tepanee, was highly regarded.  However, the Tepanee was booked for the first night we planned to be on Malapascua but we managed to book it online the next four nights.  So we stayed in the Blue Coral the first night and the Tepanee after that.  In comparison we thought the Blue Coral was much better value.  The Tepanee is a kind of boutique resort, but the Blue Coral had large no nonsense rooms overlooking the beach.  We thought the noise would be a problem but it wasn't.  It was quiet (and there is construction going on at Tepanee at the moment, so we had pounding during the day).  We had taken a fan room at BC for one night.  It was warm in the room but when we moved to the Tepanee we found they gave us only a sheet, so at 3 a.m. we were too cold and up trying to figure out how the a/c remote worked, and we ended up with the fan anyway, and now our second night we find the a/c is dripping noisily, so for the $100 extra it costs for 4 nights, I would say F.. the a/c.  The only down side to the Blue Coral is that you need to leave your valuables in a safe with the manager whereas with the Tepanee you get a safe in your room.  And finally the wifi at the Tepanee is pretty pathetic whereas at the Blue Coral it was quite robust, so we give Blue Coral thumbs up, apart from breakfast, unless you like eggs, in that case BC wins hands down (but at Tepanee we get no breakfast, so frankly, we are missing BC).

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