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Divers swim through hammerheads to meet world's largest shark

Whale sharks are the largest known fish in the ocean. With the exception of some whale species, they are the largest animals on earth. Although we know very little about them, we do know that they can reach a length of 55 feet or more and can live to over 70 years of age. The weight of a full grown whale shark is estimated to be approximately 50,000 pounds. Roughly the size of a school bus, they dwarf even the largest great white sharks. They are gentle and slow moving giants that feed on plankton, krill, small fish, fish eggs and crab larvae. Although they have enormous mouths, they are filter feeders and incapable of posing a threat to humans or any other large animals. They follow ocean currents to feed, populating all tropical seas. With one of the most distinctive skin patterns in the animal kingdom, they are easily recognizable. Their spots are as unique as the fingerprints of humans. No two whale sharks are exactly alike. Scuba divers consider whale shark sightings to be one of the most sought after experiences. For most, it is the ultimate thrill, and swimming alongside one for more than a moment is likely to be one of life’s most memorable events. These divers have traveled to Darwin Island, the most famous of the Galapagos Islands, hopeful to see a whale shark. The Galapagos are one of the most diverse and remarkable areas on our planet. The environment is hostile and beautiful at the same time, and because three great currents converge around them, the habitat produces a food supply that attracts hammerhead sharks, Galapagos sharks, sea turtles, dolphins, and more pregnant female whale sharks than most other areas of the world. Researchers don’t know where they go to have their young but they do know that almost 100 per cent of whale sharks sighted here are mothers carrying babies. Scuba divers make a rapid descent to the rocky bottom, eager to find shelter from the powerful currents that could sweep them away. They perch themselves on rocky ledges and peer out into the vast blue, waiting for that moment when one of these beautiful beasts will appear in front of them. The ledge around Darwin’s Arch is aptly named “The Theatre” and the show is a live performance that rivals any IMAX experience. The divers watch as schools of fish and large hammerhead sharks cruise past, along with occasional turtles and a few other shark species. The appearance of a whale shark is uncertain and often they are only seen from a distance. The dive guide will keep one eye on the group and the other on the depths beyond. If he sees a whale shark, he will signal the group by rattling a small shaker and he will point in the direction that they need to go. They quickly add air to their buoyancy vests and head into the blue to meet the shark and get a closer look. This large female whale shark is approximately 50 feet long and is carrying young. With a slow approach, divers were able to swim alongside her at a depth of about 60 feet. She calmly swept her tail back and forth, effortlessly maintaining a pace that a diver must work hard to match. If she becomes concerned, a few powerful sweeps of her massive tail will propel her out of reach in seconds. She is also capable of descending quickly to retreat from a threat. Whale sharks are often accepting, even curious, when they encounter scuba divers. A close encounter such as this one is something that very few divers will ever experience and it was a dive that these lucky people will never forget. The guides and crew of The Galapagos Sky Dive Ship and Float n’ Flag Dive Centre provided this group with exceptional memories that will be cherished forever.
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