A SMALL group of tourists and crew had the experience of a lifetime on Sunday, when a rare whale-shark spent half an hour playing with their tour boat of St Crispin’s reef.
“Awe-inspiring,” is how Aristocat skipper Scott “Crusty” Nelson described it.
“I’ve been in these waters for 18 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
“It’s certainly the best thing I’ve done in 20 years on the water.”
The five-metre long shark was first spotted on the northern edge of St Crispin’s as Aristocat arrived at the first site of the day around 10:30am.
“The boys on the bow spotted it first, feeding on the current line on the edge of the reef wall” Crusty said.
Allowing the boat to drift in the light breeze and mild swell, Crusty allowed crew, and then passengers, to enter the water to interact with the curious critter.
“We positioned the boat in front of it and a couple of the crew jumped in,” Crusty said.
“The whale-shark was so curious about people.
“The more passengers we had in the water, the closer it got.”
Within minutes, the whale-shark approached the boat and began inspecting the humans in the water.
“It swam straight up to the boat,” Crusty said.
The whale-shark only stop swimming with the dumbstruck passengers and tourists when the skipper decided it was time to get back on schedule.
“When we finally got to the reef, it was a bit on an anti-climax really,” Crusty said.
If the encounter taught the crew anything, it was never to have a day off.
“There were a couple of crew who took the day off because we didn’t have many passengers on board,” Crusty said.
“They were screaming at us the next day, they couldn’t believe they’d missed out.
“But it was good for the people who were out there.
“With 25 passengers, everyone could get in the water and get up close.
“If we’d had 100, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean.
Measuring up to 18m, they are known to frequent Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth on the West Australian coast each year, where they are a tourist attraction.
However, they are far less frequent visitors to the east coast.
Filter-feeders, they are harmless to humans.
Majestic: the rare oceangoing behemoth that visited St Crispin’s Reef near Port Douglas