About the site
I was in the Philippines over Christmas at Atlantis Dive Resorts, Dumaguete, courtesy of Diversion Dive Travel. The prize I won gave me the choice of the two Atlantis locations, Puerto Galera and Dumaguete. The big advantage of Dumaguete is its proximity to Oslob and the whalesharks at Cebu. My understanding is that the fishermen at Cebu used to chuck their bycaught shrimps and other small fish overboard when they returned, and the whalesharks quickly learned where to get their free meal. The whalesharks are now a major tourist attraction with canoe loads of local and international tourists visiting every day.
About our visit
There was a strong breeze when we arrived causing small white caps across the water, apparently normal for the area. The standard operation sees 6 to 8 visitors paddled out in each canoe. About 100m from the beach our chief paddler tied up to the buoy and called over the smaller feeding canoe. The whalesharks can obviously spot the difference between visitors and staff, for as the feeding canoe pulled away from the other buoy and headed towards us it was trailed by a large dark shadow.
I splashed in with the camera to find relatively clear water – not as clear as back at the resort, but a lot clearer than I had expected given the amount of activity in the water. The whalesharks are juveniles, 4-6m long, and they cosy up to the feeding boats with wide open mouths. The staff alternate between tipping shrimp into their gaping maws and chucking it out in front. We had an hour in the water and I was keen to get the best shots possible in the time allocated.
About the photo
After a few test shots, and thinking that I really should have brought my weightbelt to offset the buoyancy of my 3mm wetsuit, I moved the camera to continuous firing. No strobes are allowed and I had taken them off the camera to make it easier to manoeuvre. After watching the feeding procedure a few times, I would dive down to the sandy bottom, then hang out and shoot up towards the shark. There were seven of us in the water from our canoe, which made excluding others from the picture somewhat tricky. By being further out in front of the shark as they circled away from the feeding canoe, I was able to get several series of shots of the shark swimming alone.
The main danger was in trying to get back to the surface, with the way blocked by snorkellers, sharks and canoes. I definitely missed my caving helmet, especially after carefully avoiding a canoe and then nearly knocking myself out on the outrigger. In trying to get the first shot I also had to get uncomfortably close to the whaleshark tail. These guys may be juveniles but they are not small!