Pattaya Divers Revel in Rare Whale Shark Sighting

Pattaya’s local waters were graced Monday with the rare appearance of a 5 m. whale shark, which delighted local residents for 40 minutes before bowing out.

Khun Nithat, a fisherman and part-time speedboat driver, told the Thai Rath Thai-language newspaper that while shuttling some passengers to Koh Larn, the largest and closest of Pattaya’s Near Islands, he spotted a large, slowly-moving dark cloud below the surface.

Pattaya Whale Shark Thailand

This photo from the Thai Rath article doesn't seem to be the one talked about in the article, as this one is both smaller and apparently dead. Let's hope Monday's shark fared better.

Slowing, he discovered the cloud was a giant whale shark, about 5 m. long and 1.7 m. wide. The shark is a rare sight indeed in Pattaya. Aquanauts Course Director Roger Smith said he didn’t remember ever seeing a whale shark on the Near Islands,  although he has seen them on the Far Islands’ Koh Rin and on the Hardeep Wreck in Samae San.

The others he has seen, Smith said, were 8 and 12 meters long. At 5 meters, this one may have been a relative juvenile.

In fact, sightings of whale sharks anywhere have been rare of late. Back in May 2004, the Pattaya Mail reported that a 7 m. whale shark was released back into the sea after getting snagged in a fishing net in Bang Saen, near Sattahip. Prasarn Bensa-art, then an education official at Pattaya’s Underwater World aquarium, the shark was found without any obvious injuries or signs of illness.

Thai television has a murky video clip of the whale shark here.

Protected by the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, the shark was the first seen in Bang Saen, an indication that the area’s marine ecosystem was rebounding from years of pollution and over-fishing.

Nithat and his passengers donned snorkels and masks and jumped into the water, observing and – unfortunately – hugging and touching the plankton-eating shark. This continued for about 40 minutes and then the shark silently and peacefully slipped away.

How and why the shark ended up out of the water as in the Thai Rath photo above – perhaps it was another shark shown as an example – is unclear from the newspaper article. But Nithat was quoted as saying he was aware whale sharks were docile and that he and his passengers were excited to have a chance to “make friends” with the shark, so hopefully it didn’t later end up in some Thai recipe.

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  1. Whale Shark on Pattaya's NEAR Islands - ScubaBoard - [...] on Pattaya's Near Islands, but on Monday one made an appearance. Five meters long off Koh Larn Pattaya ...

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