Tiago swimming with a whale shark in Mozambique
Swimming with a whale shark in an ocean safari in Mozambique

Swimming with a whale shark in Mozambique

This post is also available in: Português

We’ve never been big sea enthusiasts. We mean, we like the sea, the beach, swimming, drinking a beer in the sand, but marine life? Nope, never.

This all changed, though, when we travelled to Mozambique for two weeks with a couple of newly-made Canadian friends who, besides being very cool, were biologists too.

Tiago swimming with a whale shark in Mozambique
Ti with the whale shark

We had met them in Malawi and got along so well that we decided to spend the next 3 weeks travelling together. That is how we arrived in Mozambique with plans to explore the coast of the country. The problem was that we ended up, right at the beginning of the trip, and on the recommendation of two other Australians who we had also met in Malawi, at Tofu Beach.

Tofu Beach

Let’s put it quite simply: Tofu Beach is a paradise. It is one of those little beaches where everyone knows each other. The food is fresh and cheap, the parties are good and things work so well that the place is full of travellers who went to Tofu to spend a few days only and ended up moving for real.

Tofu is also known to be one of the best diving areas in the world. It was something we obviously did not know about. And there were plenty of divers, enthusiasts and biologists.

Emily near the whale shark in Mozambique

While we enjoyed a beer at the bar or at the pool in the hotel (by the way, we stayed at Fatima’s Nest and highly recommended it), our friends Emily and Dave were thrilled with the diving possibilities available. It was June and whales mating time. Also, the sea was choppy and full of rare animals.

Dave and Emily were so passionate about diving that they were responsible for planting in Fe that desire to take the PADI course.

Ocean Safari

A group of people in a boat in the ocean during an ocean safari in Mozambique

The subjects which most groups of people talked about in Tofu  was almost always about diving and the ocean safaris. Let alone the discussions between the ones lucky enough to see a whale shark and those who, despite several attempts, had not been able to see the animal in extinction.

We, who only knew what a whale shark was on television, started to get carried away with that story of swimming with them. The whale shark is actually a shark that can reach up to 19 meters. But as a vegetarian, he only feeds on plankton.

Anyway, our curiosity was growing, until one day, Dave and Emily convinced us to do the safari in the ocean, nothing more than a safari, but… dã! In the ocean.

The problem is that the safari cost 50 dollars, it lasts 3 hours and has no guarantee of seeing any animal, because, Thank God, the animals are free in the ocean.

Faced with our dilemma, the two dearest ones decided to give us the tour as a gift, since, coincidentally, it was our wedding anniversary. And so we could not deny it and accepted it!

Safari Day

Fernanda and Tiago posing in a boat in the ocean during the ocean safari in Mozambique

We woke up very early and went to the diving school to receive basic instructions on how to behave if we found the whale shark. Although the boat trip was in search of all the animals like giant stingrays, turtles, whales and dolphins, the star of the show was this very rare shark.

We learned that we should hold on to the boat because it travels at high speed; They advised us to keep an eye on the sea and the horizon to try to see the animals; And most importantly, if we entered the water with the whale shark so that we would never touch it, for it would feel threatened and flee immediately.

And so our anxiety grew. As the sea had a bit of jellyfish, we were also advised to wear a T-shirt (or a rash guard, for those who had it) to avoid burns.

And so we went on tour. Started with the whole group of about 8 people, plus 3 captains, helping to put the boat in the water.

The journey began. Indeed, the speed was very high and we all held tightly to the ropes adjacent to the boat. And that’s when we began to discover a world that is still completely new to us. During the tour, huge humpback whales jumped, sprayed water through the respiratory port, or waved their fins constantly. It was the most beautiful thing.

After a 2 hour drive, we had seen countless whales, but still nothing of the whale shark. Everyone’s anxiety was high, along with the frustration of having to return home without seeing the main challenge.

Then, suddenly, the captain stopped the boat and pointed to the water “Over there!! The shark!”

We looked to the side of the boat, about 5 meters from where we were, not believing that giant and perfect silhouette of a shark could be so close to us.

The order was given: “You may enter the water now!”

Tiago could not believe it: “What on earth?! Jump in together with that massive creature in there???”

But as everyone entered, there was nothing left to do but jump into the sea as well.

The whale shark was huge. It should have been about 7 meters and it was one of the most beautiful and perfect things we’ve ever seen. It was all white spotted and unlike anything we had imagined.

He swam continuously, very slowly, almost in a state of trance, sometimes getting closer to the surface, and sometimes descending a little.

a whale shark under the water

Our group tried to follow the big thing’ steps, calmly so as not to frighten him. We all synchronized with the whale shark rhythm, letting him dictate the rules of the dance. And it was beautiful. It was one of the most incredible 30 minutes of our life. These connections with nature, we often forget that they exist. We were so close to the shark, less than a meter, swimming in complete freedom.

The fear we felt at the beginning, came back when we got too close to the mouth or the tail. He was so big, but so docile at the same time.

The experience has changed us, like so many others during the trip. This made us respect the oceans more and open our eyes to the world that coexists with ours. Being able to be a spectator of this very different universe was remarkable.

What have we learnt

We begin to understand later why whale sharks are so rare. Apparently, one of their biggest predators is the Chinese who hunt them to get their fin. According to Chinese culture, the whale shark fin has aphrodisiac powers. Not to mention that it is also a sign of status to have a whale shark’s fin on the door of your home or shop. Sad reality.

Dave and Emily also told us that, in one of the talks with biologists who had been there in Tofu, they said that it was common to see large Chinese fishing vessels hunting whale sharks from the beach.

But how could this be possible because the animal is in extinction and its hunting is forbidden in Mozambique?

Simple, the Chinese government have already bought part of the Mozambican coast, thus being allowed to do whatever.