Whale Sharks Don’t Live In Fish Tanks
Co-Existing: Bridging Cultural Differences
Before we begin you may want to pop the kettle on and make a fresh cuppa – this post is not short. An interesting thing occured this evening. A photographer by the name of Shirley Lo +1′d three of my posts on Google Plus.
As I’d never heard of her before, I decided to follow her profile and began to read her lastest post. It was about co-existing and there was a nice poem and an a spectacular image of a Whale Shark – in a fish tank.
if you could communicate w/any lifeform, what would you want to know, and from whom?
a fin’s length of glass separates us from another world
a flick of our tails brings us closer together
you taught us colors and voice signals, and you gave us free health care
we don’t know what we can teach you
but we can show you that it is possible to coexist…
Skimming the comments, it seemed that everyone was enjoying the uniqueness of the photo and the stimulating replies.
This is fantastic…
…magic vision and really emotive…
Mesmerizing, thanks for the perspective…
The post does contains some great inspirational comments, well worth reading once you’re finished here - just try to ignore the Whale Shark photo. It was actually a shame that all I could see was a Whale Shark not co-existing, ‘a fin’s length of glass‘ from her own freedom.
You get the idea. I was disgruntled. It was because nobody said – wait a minute, that’s a Whale Shark in a fish tank. So, I had to. There is only one place in the world where fully grown Whale Sharks (plural) can be found in a fish tank, and that’s one place too many.
I left this comment:
I’d like to free the whale shark from the fish tank, they just don’t belong there. Having dived with them on numerous occasions this scene makes me feel rather queezy.
Within a few moments Shirley replied and asked me this question:
where did you swim with whale sharks? could you share and tell us more about your experiences with these wonderful creatures? : )
Sigh. The answer I had in mind was long. It can’t be shortened and I’m up to my eyes in Website design (sorry for the delay, Jay), social media measurement reports (not long now, David), branding proposals etc… So, do I, A) clear the desk and answer the question honestly B) give a short non-descript answer and get back to work or C) ignore her completely and just +1 her reply. Bare in mind I have no idea who Shirley Lo is, though her photos at the top of profile were nice and she did leave a : ) I chose A), clearly!
Beyond a fin’s length of glass
Here’s a little story about co-existing, with Whale Sharks. I’d never shared this publicly before today – hope you like it.
I spent many years teaching Scuba Diving in SE Asia. My first experience with a whale shark was in Thailand. On that particular dive we were at 30m surrounded by a swarm of jellyfish – not pleasant. Then she arrived, mouth open graciously gliding through the depths. I only got to see that particular Whale Shark for about 30-40 seconds, she was 10m above us. I instantly forgot all about the jellyfish, my natural reaction was to fin as hard as I could after her, which I did – on that day I was not quick enough and all I could do was watch her swim out of sight. Arriving later on the boat I’ll never forget the sheer joy of having been in the same space of such beauty and elegance. From that moment on sharks, and particular, whale sharks became my passion.
A few months later, also in Thailand I was taking an overnight trip to the famous island of Koh Toa, near the island of Koh Samui. The trip was not fully booked and actually it was nearly cancelled. We were five on that trip, one French girl, two Israeli’s, a Norwegian and myself. The two dives on the first day were nice, nothing out of the ordinary, but nice. That evening we grilled under the moonlight, drank a few glasses of local whisky and slept under the stars on the top canopy of the boat.
The morning dive was planned for 7am, a deep dive to 35m. The dive site was renowned within the instructor circles for Whale Shark sightings, although I’d been there often I’d never had any luck, some instructors had been hoping for years also with no luck! My group awoke late, recovering from one or two whiskies too many. At 7.30am we were kitted up and ready to dive. Another dive school was already moored at the site and had beaten us too it – I always liked to be first as you had a better chance to see bigger fish before they were scared off by humans in their space. My group had annoyed me a little as they had faffed around getting ready and no one was really that interested in diving!
As we descended I became aware of a group of divers huddled together in a circle some 50-100m away. They were completing their safety stop at 5m. It struck me as a little odd as they were so close to one another. I then looked in the direction they were looking and my eyes nearly fell out of my head! Two whale sharks. Mum and child. My regulator did fall out of my mouth as I stared in amazement. The protocol in this situation is for everyone to stay close together and observe quietly.
I gathered my little team together while watching the other dive school exit the water. I told my group to stay together and wait there, I’d be back in a moment or two – they nodded. The visibility, some 50-70m was fantastic, a deep dark blue – early mornings often gave the best clarity. The mother Whale Shark had retreat a little, she was around 5-7m in length, hard to be accurate at that distance, but large! The child was perhaps 4m and around 50m away. There was no land or island around we were in open water and at a depth of 10m. I left the group and begin slowly finning in her direction (to me she was a she, I can’t be sure actually, but in my mind she was a she). I wasn’t really sure what to expect next, but it was my instinct to say hello.
To my surprise she turned and started to also swim towards me, head on, mouth closed. When we were about 10m apart I stopped swimming and just hovered at around 15m. She also slowed down. Little by little we got closer until she made the first pass, the distance between us was perhaps 2m. I turned to watch her glide by. I then watched her turn and head back in my direction. This happened two or three times, each time I sat (hovered in a sitting like position) still and smiled at her. On the fourth occasion as she swam close I reached out a hand and stroked the length of her body – pure silk. She did not flinch or react badly, so I guess she liked it – she always had an eye on me – she had big eyes!
Feeling more confident that she was also enjoying the experience I waited until she passed again and this time I latched on to her side fin, holding on gently, I looked over her fin so she could see me, our eyes met, she was looking back at me. We glided slowly along for 40-50m – it was amazing. I looked at my watch and noticed I was now at 30m, my group was still huddled together. It was time to leave her. I let go and finned back to the group. The baby Whale Shark moved back towards her mum who had been watching the entire time – I’m sure with a little bit of anticipation for her baby! I signalled for the group to descend with me to 35m. We landed on the sand at the bottom and I just lay there with a huge grin on my face staring at the surface. Both whale sharks could be seen above us swimming freely.
After the allotted time, 10mins or so, we slowly started to make our way towards the surface. Again, Mum kept her distance, but baby was not finished with us – she even seem to know that we had to spend time in shallow water. We hovered around 7m, then 3m for as long as we all had air. The baby Whale Shark swam around us freely, everyone was able to stroke her gently, it was a very magical moment. As others began to run out of air they surfaced. I was last out of air and spent the last 5-7 minutes alone with my new friend. We had many eye-contact moments, we really connected with one another. No words were spoke, of course, but we had the most deep and meaningful conversation I’ve ever had with any creature on the planet – it was a purity that is seldom found amongst humans.
Eventually my air was gone – with one final stroke and a little wave I said goodbye. As I surfaced I’ll never forget the noise that awaited me. It was like being at a world cup final. We cheered, we hugged, we laughed, we were the luckiest people on the planet that morning and we knew it. As I write these words, which I have to say I’ve not done before (so thanks for asking), a tear is in my eye and my heart is glowing. Now you know why the picture of a Whale Shark in a fish tank makes me feel a little queezy!
My love for the underwater world took me all over Asia, I followed the Whale Shark trail to the Philippines and met up with them at their annual gathering place; a 50-60 whale shark gathering! No diving was allowed, but snorkelling was ok. I’ve dived with many different types of sharks and never once felt threatened, and although one could say I was lucky, I would say it was more a karma thing – they seemed to know I was there to learn from them and not there to disturb them, it seemed to put them at ease.
Today I exist offering consultancy, innovation, design, brand, data & learning technology services. Everything I learnt from my underwater friends I apply to helping others connect better. I try to help bridge culture gaps through better acceptance and understanding of our differences and more importantly our similarities. The creatures of the sea were my favourite teachers, they taught me about the Zen of Symbiotics, and I thank them daily for their lessons.
(To Shirley) You seem rather popular on G+, to be honest I’ve not read your profile yet, I only noticed you because you +1′d my posts today. I like the few photos I’ve seen and I’m going to explore a little to find out more about +shirley lo, the lady who asked me to share a tale about my diving adventures. It’s been a pleasure meeting you, I hope we stay in touch. In any case, I wish you well on your journey and if you get the chance to go diving, take it, there’s lots to be learned underwater ; )
To conclude the story, Shirley wrote back shortly afterwards with:
what an enjoyable read your writing was. thanks for sharing your experiences with us. feels as if we were right there with you! whale sharks do seem to be gentle giants, and it so spectacular that you were in such proximity with not one, but two whale sharks! that’s so wonderful that she sensed your gentle and kind intentions and probably enjoyed your touch, while the mum seemingly kept a watchful eye.
i’ve shared your experience up above in the main post so that others can enjoy it. it was a pleasure meeting you and hearing your story.
this is such a good read that maybe you should also post your story as a stand alone google plus post on your side as well? : )
Glad you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed recalling it. Regarding reposting it – great minds must be thinking alike – my blog post will be ready in about 30 minutes – which I’ll also add to G+ – I’ll send you a link once it’s up and perhaps you could re-share it with your friends, you have a few more than me! Thanks for the inspiration and the little smiley face in your original reply – it spurred me into action – which you’ll understand when you see my blog… bye for now…
Thank you for reading and thanks to Shirley Lo for inspiring this post – now go and check out her amazing questions and view her stunning photography…
Update: I think it is important for readers to consider the reply from Shirely and my reply in return – it may help to better keep a bigger picture on the Whale Shark story.
wow, your post was even more enjoyable to read with the interspersing photos as well as your thought processes between our correspondences! : )
i’ve included your blog post link into the post so that in all the shares of my photo, everyone can see your wonderful stories : )
the poem was written from the point of view of the whale shark, and was implicitly encouraging the reader to perhaps think from different points of view, including the shark’s mind and imagine how he might feel. so you responded exactly the way i hoped some people would : ) i couldn’t help but know that it was being held in captivity and might not have been happy being there. i asked the staff about how the sharks might feel, and from what i understand, the aquarium inspires visitors to learn more about conservation and appreciate the beauty of the ocean, which in turn raises awareness and may perhaps save more of these creatures. there are even some purists that are against scuba diving as it disturbs the environment, and may mislead the creatures to possibly detrimental assumptions about human contact based on past experiences. however, we can all probably agree that these creatures deserve to be happy. hopefully through dialog and appreciation, we can all help more creatures to understand each other : )
thanks for sharing,
Thank you for adding the link to the post and I’m pleased that the post came to life in way you liked. Sometimes pictures can help a story, as I’m sure you’ll know, sometimes it’s nice to let the mind create the pictures – ah, did I mention I’m also a photographer? A portrait photographer – possible one of the most (in) famous English photographer’s here in Germany (actually the only one, doing what we do) – we have one of the most unusual photo businesses you could ever imagine – remind me to tell you all about it one day, I’m sure you’ll love this story too : )
I liked your poem. I like it even more that I know the intent you had. To be really honest, I need to revisit the post now that I’ve done my ‘save the Whale Shark’ thing and really appreciate it what it for what your were expressing. In between I’ve skimmed your previous posts here on G+ and realised that I’m talking to a most wonderfully creative person – your posts add a new dimension in terms of quality, thoughtfulness and finesse – super!
If you’d really like to know, I think the Whale Sharks are absolutely fine where they are, but don’t tell everyone. I don’t think their consciousness allows them to question and I like that they have friends who are for sure fun to play with – even though I played it more along the lines of ‘wow, three of them, that’s not good’ – It is only we as humans who are able to delve so deeply – they are fine and well looked after and as with many elements of nature, serving is often the highest reward.
However, this should not become a fad with every aquarium demanding to have such large creatures in tanks, especially my favourite one ; ) – and I totally agree with your considered argument about divers. The truth be known, I was very naughty, and should never have engaged with the Whale Shark, those of us in the profession know this, but we also know how hard it is to resist the pull to be closer to nature. I’m well studied in the underwater world, and realise I disturbed the ecosystem, possibly for the worse – but on a deeper level – we did what both came very naturally to us – which is also important – I guess what I’m trying to say is, as with nature itself it’s a fine balance.
You closing sentences resonate and I’d only like to add the word compassion to the mix – people should be as compassionate as much as they can, to as many as they can, for as long as they can.
Thank you for taking extra time to chat, really was very nice.
Best wishes from the Bavarian forest…
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