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Trying to snorkel with Whale Sharks

To Snorkel with Whale Sharks.

There were no veins visible in my arms, so the nurse moved to my right hand and punctured my skin with a large needle. I felt a twinge of pain, and then she started collecting my blood. Three vials of blood were needed for the test, but when the well dried up in my hand, she switched to my left hand. A little more pain followed, and it didn’t make me feel any better when the nurse self-diagnosed me as suffering from a bee-sting. All I could recall were the words spoken to me by my doctor, “There is a one in a thousand chance of getting malaria!”

I had taken all my anti-malaria tablets, sprayed myself with copious amounts of Peaceful Sleep (spray for mosquitoes) and wore quite a few anti-mosquito bracelets. It was highly unlikely that I had it especially after hearing a horror story on the plane. A lady's son had contracted malaria but he didn't take any anti-malaria medicine, as they felt it only masked the symptoms of malaria. He had to be evacuated from Mozambique and was lying in hospital in South Africa in a coma. I would be contacted later that day with the results of my blood test. Having discussed this with my doctor he said that’s its more of an urban myth and that you should always take your malaria medicine.

A few days earlier.

Barra is a few kilometres from the Mozambique town of Inhambane and lies between the Inhambane estuary and the Indian ocean. It's roughly a 30 minute drive and the road is tarred. It’s an incredible location as the sea is warm and clear for snorkelling and scuba diving. I needed to taste adventure and put a cross through another item on my bucket list – snorkelling with whale sharks, the largest living fish on the planet.

Checking in at Barra Dive Centre for my ocean safari, I was relieved to hear that there are some serious guidelines that had to be followed, or one would be pulled from the sea and no longer allowed to snorkel with the whale sharks. It was vital to keep a safe distance from them, 3 meters from their head and 4 meters from their tails. They also mention the three T's – NO taking, touching or teasing but most of all no riding them. They do supply you with snorkel gear and wetsuits if you need them, although I brought my own snorkel gear. Humans are the only known species that predate on whale sharks.

After being briefed about the boat and the whale sharks, despite some rainy weather our team on the boat was buzzing with excitement. Splat! Ouch! Splat! Ouch! Splat! Ouch! Every now and again I have to look over at my arms and legs to realise it wasn’t hail but rain colliding with my skin. I am sure being on the inflatable boat, going a million miles and hour, there was some mathematical equation that the myth busters could use to confirm why it was so painful.

Would this be one of the times that they spot a whale shark and we could go snorkelling with it? I wasn't feeling overly optimistic, I am not sure if it was due to the weather but I just wasn't feeling lucky. After traveling quite a distance north of Tofu, I realised that Mozambique certainly has an exquisite coast line that doesn't seem to be inhabited by very many tourists.

As Barra Dive centre has a good relationship with the other dive operators in the area, they were asking boat after boat, if they had seen any whale sharks. Each one replying NO! It was becoming more apparent that we would not see any! We were then taken to Snorkel reef for some snorkelling. Perhaps the best part of the day was when we beached, with our skipper sliding the boat right up onto the shore, at an incredible speed!

Perseverance was the key.

I went back again two days later to Barra Dive Centre, which was a hive of activity. Signed the forms and sat down and listened intently to another briefing about the boat and the whale sharks. The same question pops up, "Will we see any?" She responds by saying the day before they saw two so it's looks promising. We walk towards the boat and everyone seems excited by the prospect of snorkelling with a whale shark. My agenda is to see one and take a photo, I have A Nikon AW 100 that I use for snorkelling and wet environments and I hoping that it will suffice.

After passing a couple of dive boats, finally all you could see was its fin out the water and a couple of snorkelers in the water. Then our instructor tells everyone to get in the water, I stayed in the boat hoping to get some photographs from the surface. It was hectic, with other dive boats in the area also trying to get their people in the water as quickly as possible. The whale sharks move incredibly quickly, they swim by moving their entire bodies from side to side (not just their tails, like some other sharks do). Everyone gets back on the boat and you do it all over again till everyone has snorkelled with the whale shark. In this area you are likely to see sexually immature male sharks about 5 meters long.

When the whale shark finally popped its head out of the water, I was able to get a shot and it was absolutely amazing, my adrenalin was pumping! Other participants on the boat couldn't believe how incredibly majestic they look. Their sheer bulk is overwhelming it looked maybe 3,5 meters long. We were then taken to Snorkel reef again and the water was really warm +/-27 degrees and the colour ranges from turquoise to royal blue with excellent visibility.

It was a great day but I still hadn't snorkelled with a whale shark, so the very next day I went back again. I needed to try it once more and as the safari was 1550 Mets converted into South African Rand is R553.45 or the US Dollar is $51.82, I probably wouldn't get a chance like this again. This time Richard was going to be our guide and the same question cropped up. " Will we see any?" Richard replied he would be more surprised if we don't see any. Standing listening to my third briefing one of the things that Richard mentioned, was that you should gracefully enter the water so as not to startle the whale sharks. He also described how they have a mucus membrane and if we touch them, the oil in our skin may break it down, making them more susceptible to sickness.

Back on the boat again with another tropical rain storm passing by, we had travelled quite a distance and passed several other boats that had seen no whale sharks yet that day. Then we passed another Barra dive boat who told Richard, our skipper, where to look. I was incredibly excited. This time I entered the water determined to snorkel with the whale shark. As they move really quickly before we knew it we were all back on the boat ready to go a second time as everyone gets a chance to swim with the whale sharks. Shortly after entering the water, I felt this shearing hot pain shooting up my arm. I was stung twice by a blue bottle and I certainly wasn't going to let someone pee on my arm. Legend has it, that is a cure for the pain. Waved my hand up and went back into the boat. It's certainly beneficial using their wetsuits, I properly wouldn't have been stung otherwise – I was wearing a costume. I would have to wait till we got back – luckily I packed Hamilton Stingose gel in the first aid kit which eased the pain.

The following day was New Years so they were closed and the day after that we were going back to South Africa. I would suggest you contact Barra dive centre directly for more information. For those divers out there, they do equipment rentals and cater towards your needs. You should also discuss with them what malaria medication you should take, so you will be able to go diving.

After waiting a couple of hours, my doctor finally let me know that I didn’t have malaria – I just had the FLU.

These are a couple of “pointers” for you that either I experienced or I heard from other people.

*It’s incredibly hot in Mozambique due to its proximity to the equator, and you will need a high factor suncream. Even so, you may still end up with a suntan. One of the ladies got sunburnt and it went septic and she eventually ended up having to visit a local hospital.

*One negative element, is the trash (glass and sharp pieces of plastic) on the beach. I would recommend that you walk with sandals.

*It’s called an ocean safari for a reason, be prepared that you might not see any whale sharks and make arrangements to go back the following day. It’s certainly worth it.

*When making travel arrangements confirm that your room has an air con as it does get incredibly hot.

*When I was walking around with my camera, I occasionally got people asking for money to have their photo taken. I just walked away – so please do the same. Certain people out there are setting a precedent and it needs to be stopped.

For those of you that would like to take souvenirs of your attempt home with you, just past Barra’s bar on your left, down the walk way there are a couple of people selling trinkets, that’s where I bought my two whale sharks.

Till next time.


Profile photo of Nicky Classen

Hi - my name is Nicky, I was born and raised in South Africa - I consider myself an African. I originally studied Journalism, from there I moved into the corporate world where I have dabbled in marketing, advertising, copy writing.I am working towards gaining my photography degree, through OCA. In 2012 I was privilege to attend a National Geographic travel photography course with Jim Richardson through the Santa Fe workshops in NM. In 2012 - I did a wildlife workshop in Botswana and that jujst started a fire that inside of me. I blog through Kiss from the World. Since then I have travelled quite a bit focusing on wildlife and I would like to combe the two together some how. I also want to be the change I want to see in the world. Places I have visited.Botswana, Namibia - Luderitz and Swakopmund, Lesotho, Mauritius, South Africa, Zanzibar. Sweden, Hawaiian Beaches, Santa Fe - New Mexico, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Yosemite

2 thoughts on “Trying to snorkel with Whale Sharks

  1. Profile photo of Penny de VinePenny de Vine

    I was lucky enough to snorkel with whale sharks off Isla Mujeres in Mexico. It was apparently the biggest gathering in the world – several hundred! Nothing short of absolutely amazing and definitely a highlight of my life! There were also several massive manta rays (which looked tiny in comparison!)


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