National Geographic : 1992 Dec
Gentle Monsters of the Deep w Sll hale rarks By EUGENIE CLARK Photographs by DAVID DOUBILET UT OF THE DEEP BLUE GLOOM our quarry emerges, all 30 feet and ten tons of it: The giant whale shark is only a few yards away, swimming toward us. Photographer David Doubilet and his assistant, Gary Bell, swim to position themselves directly in front of the oncoming fish, so they can photograph its enormous mouth working as it feeds. (No real danger here because, incongruously, this huge shark feeds on plankton-mainly shrimplike krill-and small schooling fish.) Rodney Fox, a shark naturalist, monitors the dive time as I swim toward this member of the species Rhincodon typus -the largest fish in the world-to study it up close. As we move in, the whale shark begins to alter its course slightly and go deeper, the typical evasive behavior when divers approach. Because of its great size and the featureless blue background of the open sea, the fish appears to be floating in space. Swimming as fast as I can, Ijust keep up with it, but not for long. My hand trails down the massive body, over the thick, hard, tex tured skin. The shark feels almost inanimate, like a wooden subma rine. To stay with it longer than I can by swimming, I propel myself up toward its dorsal fin. There I find a handhold. Under the trailing edge Like an oceanic space ship, a 35-foot whale shark as big as a gray whale cruises off Western Australia with the author in tow (preceding pages). The brightly dappled creature is a true shark, with gills for breathing, yet it usually consumes nothing larger than anchovies.