Saturday, September 14, 2013

Whale sharks and other sea creatures enjoyed on a day trip to Daymaniyat Islands in Oman

September 14, 2013, Extra Divers at Al Sawadi Beach Resort
My logged dives #1239-1240

Bobbi and I just moved to Al Ain so I can live closer to my job. One bonus is that Al Ain is 2 hours closer to Oman than was Abu Dhabi so it's just 3.5 hours to drive to Al Sawadi Beach Resort, where we can access one of our favorite dive areas, the Daymaniyat Islands. That makes it possible to dive the Daymaniyats on a day trip from Al Ain (first time it's been that close since we lived in Oman back last century, and used to go there often). We could have driven down the night before and stayed at our favorite in-spot on the Batinah Coast, Suwaiq Motel, but since Bobbi still works in Abu Dhabi and has to get up at 4 anyway to get to work on time when she stays in Al Ain, we figured we might as well keep our routine and wake up at 4 for the drive to Al Sawadi from Al Ain on Saturday morning, the easier the transition from weekend Saturday to workaday Sunday.

So we did that, arriving at the dive center half an hour late due to our miscalculation of the time it would take us to get there (they pointed out it was actually 35 minutes; we thought it would take just 3 hours). But since we had our dive bags ready to throw on the boat, we didn't hold them up, but boarded the boat along with everyone else. Though the trip with its border crossing at dawn was wearing (we even had a petrol crisis since both Oman stations were closed in the 20 km between border posts; and we were on empty), we were hoping to see something in the ocean that would make it worth the trip down.

That's Bobbi in the thumbnail, the small creature at the top of the screen, not the big one :-)

We got off to an excellent start. They had been seeing whale sharks on the 45 min. trip out to the islands lately so our crew were expecting them, and when they were spotted, the crew cut the engines and let everyone off to snorkel with the sharks. This happened more than once on the trip out, so we got to snorkel with a couple of whale sharks very close up. The last one we saw came up to the boat, but it was by then time for diving, so the divers simply observed it from the gunwales, no one jumped off to play with it.  I've never seen a boat load of diver before decline en mass an opportunity to swim with a whale shark (in the GoPro compilation above I put that encounter first, makes a more logical storyboard :-).

We proceeded to make two dives, one on lesser Jun and the other on Sirah Island. Both were superb. The first dive on Jun had swimming pool visibility with a layer of algae at the bottom that we could easily see through if we finned overhead, and was only slightly brown if we were in it. A sharp thermocline trapped the cool water in the lower layer, so it was nice with a 5 mm suit to swim into it. But the cloud tended to remain over the sand, at 16 meters, and the water on the reef was as clear as a glass of water.

The reef was beautiful and teeming with frolicking fish meandering about the staghorn corals. There were large black, white and yellow grunts, and a Moorish idol nibbling at a jellyfish.

I found one turtle with his head stuck into the cabbage coral intently trying to get at whatever it was that so appealed to it there.

In the clear water, trigger fish, parrot fish, puffer and porcupine fish swam about the cleaning stations where wrasse serviced batfish and other customers, and scorpion fish could be found dogfaced hiding in the coral, motionless even when approached quite closely.

I kept checking out in the sand looking for sting rays and leopard sharks. I didn't see any of the latter, but we found where huge cow tail rays loitered about, only to take freight and scamper when divers approached.

I'd almost forgot how meager the between-dive snack is with Extra Divers. We hadn't had any breakfast to speak of so the biscuits and pineapple and watermellon were refreshing but hardly fortifying. But at least they had enough, didn't run out when Sultan the friendly boatman passed the platter repeatedly. Fortunately the second dive would take our mind off the gaps in our stomachs.

We motored over to the site, the small island nearest to our mainland port, and put in with a mild but steady current nudging us west, reef on our left. We soon came on a turtle. I was following it with my GoPro but Hany was clacking his tank and agitatedly making shark signals, since a whale shark was cruising just off the reef at that moment. 

The shark posed for cameras for a minute or two before going his way, but he came back a few minutes later, but this time below the brown layered thermocline, so he was not so clearly visible, but everyone in our group was crowding around him. I wasn't that enthused to chase him, but I noticed that near the reef, virtually ignored by the other divers, a mottled ray lay unobtrusively in the sand. So I went down to it and filmed him instead.

Hany had promised to take us to a place where a large seahorse often hung out, but the sea horse wasn't home. A torpedo ray was there instead.

Several divers surfaced on coming up from the 20 meter search for the seahorse, low on air after 45 minutes. But Bobbi and I continued for another 15, finding a huge moray hiding with gaping mouth in the coral,

more turtles, blue triggers decorating one part of the reef, more scorpion fishes,

and a lone cuttlefish resting on the bottom (odd, they usually travel in pairs, and usually move away when approached).

Back on shore we drove back to UAE happy indeed that we had made the drive south over the border.

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