By Jill Smith
Rhincodon Typus (Whale Shark)
Fresh from our Whale Shark trip... and it was awesome! Although these beautiful beasts may be found in tropical waters all over the world, they are not commonly experienced by divers and snorkelers. That makes our encounter with them extra special!
Luckily for us, hundreds of these gentle giants congregate to feed around the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico from June to August, so planning our encounters has been relatively easy. We have a good relationship with Solo Buceo Dive Shop* in Cancun, which helps to make it an amazing adventure!
Whale sharks are filter feeders, and although they are the largest fish in the ocean, they feed on the tiniest creatures, barely visible to the human eye; they can grow up to 40 feet in length, so naturally, they have to eat almost continuously! These animals can live to be over 100 years old (if they are not hunted by humans). Females are larger than males. The more you learn about these fish, the more fascinating they are!
Whale Shark Photography
Traditional underwater photography rules still apply, such as holding the camera as steady as possible. If you are snorkeling, try holding your breath as you squeeze the shutter release, and of course, try to keep your shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action. The shark is moving, the water is moving, you are moving. If possible I want my shutter speed set to 1/125 or faster.
In Mexico, you are permitted only to snorkel with whale sharks, and whale sharks glide across the top of the water, so your experience with them is shallow. And you know what shallow water means… more natural light! Strobes need not apply!
Whale sharks are enormous; they can be as big as a school bus, and that means you need to consider your lens. A wide angle lens and/or a dome port will help a great deal in terms of fitting these overgrown puppies into your frame. A wide angle lens and a dome port offer a couple of advantages:
Lining up the shot
Never try to out-swim a whale shark. They appear to be swimming slowly, but their fins are bigger than yours; you will exhaust yourself trying to keep up, and you won’t be able to hold the camera steady at the same time anyway. Try to anticipate the trajectory of the whale shark swimming in the water and intercept its path, or wait for a swim-by.
You can see in the photo below, that Trena has floated patiently in the line of the shark’s path, and the shark came straight towards her – right in the mouth! What a great experience! Husband Rick watches in awe. We all found it to be an awesome experience!
If it is possible, shooting up at the animal often results in a more dramatic and pleasing shot. A little freediving practice won’t hurt!
Photography and Protecting these Darlings
Did you know that whale sharks are listed as “endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species? Your photography can actually contribute to the global effort to protect and learn about amazing whale sharks!
Link to Red List of Threatened Species: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/19488/0
How Can Your Photography Help?
The patterns and scarring on whale sharks are as distinctive as a fingerprint, allowing scientists to identify individuals for long-term, mark-recapture analysis. If population models can be created to give conservation management authorities a better understanding of the habits and stressors on these animals, then well-informed plans may be developed to take action for their preservation.
How do I Take Photos for Wildbook and Whale Shark Conservation?
Submit Whale Shark Identifying Photos to:
Thank you for contributing to this global effort to protect the whale sharks!
* Solo Buceo Dive Shop (Cancun)– Have diving needs in the Cancun area? Visit Solo Buceo, and tell them Adventure Sports Newmarket (Jody) sent you! You won’t be sorry; their service and dive expertise will make you a very happy diver!
Want us to make your diving arrangements for you? No problem! 905-898-5338