The ‘sea gypsies’ who live with whale sharks – BBC

Although there are no regulations in Indonesia as to how close you can get to a whale shark (unlike other countries), we were conscious to give the whale sharks the space and respect they need.

As we descended, we realised nothing had quite prepared us for the size of the creatures. A huge male rose from the deep, gently gliding past us and up to the surface, sucking the succulent sardines from the net’s tiny openings into his cavernous mouth. Dwarfed, we cautiously moved closer to take a photo.

Suddenly a second huge male emerged from below, gently nudging us with his pectoral fin as he passed. We photographed his left pectoral fin, because the unique spot patterns there and behind the gills are the best way to identify it. After sending our photograph to Konservasi Indonesia as a contribution to their whale shark monitoring programme, we learned that he had first been sighted on 16 December 2021 and goes by the moniker WP-RT-0209.

Next, a third, slightly smaller male appeared. He curiously approached us front-on, with his enormous, fleshy mouth wide open. Peering inside to see rows of hundreds of tiny teeth, we held our ground, wondering if a collision might be imminent. But he gracefully passed by, looking deep into our eyes as he went. Below, a large pod of dolphins kept their distance, feeding on the odd sardine that drifted down from the nets.

The momentousness of being surrounded by three of the planet’s largest yet most docile fish was difficult to comprehend. After three hours, with camera memory cards full and batteries exhausted, we were immensely grateful to the Bugis for sharing the opportunity to sit at the dining table of the biggest fish in the sea.

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