The whale shark is harmless, but that doesn’t mean we’re not

I recently posted three pictures of a whale shark on my Instagram profile, but to be honest, they weren’t one hundred percent real. Here’s the story of how I shot those photos. 

In the last week of September, just before starting with my second year as a student of multimedia, I went on a family trip to Hurghada, Egypt. Besides a great five-star hotel and all that jazz, I went because I really wanted to go snorkeling and witness the beautiful sea life that Egypt has to offer.

Luckily, our hotel was situated just aside from a small coral reef where I could look at small marine creatures all day. At the end of our stay, however, we decided to go further off with a boat to go diving. We cruised an hour and a half to a more deserted coral reef near Orange Bay which sustains wildlife that is hardly seen near the hotel area.

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A deserted coral reef near Orange Bay

We saw a manta ray, a moray eel, and some even witnessed sleeping turtles. But the greatest experience was yet to come. On the way back, the ship captain glanced at a whale shark, feeding on plankton just below the water surface. He immediately shouted “Whale shark!”, and told us to grab our masks and prepare for jumping into the water. 

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The original image is actually full of people

About twenty people gathered at the end of the ship and waited for the captain’s signal to jump in and swim with the giant. I still had to prepare my underwater camera setup, which meant I was the last in line. In the hurry to see the whale shark up close, I also forgot the swimming fins, which I later found up super necessary if I wanted to keep up. 

When I finally got into the water, everyone was already in – my worst photography nightmare yet. I quickly swam to the front of the line, but hardly shot a photo without a person on it. In just a few minutes, there were already two other ships that also came by to see the animal, which meant even more people in the water. I called it a day, as there wasn’t a chance I’d get the photo imagined.

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When finally returning home and opening Lightroom, I realized something could be done with the photos using spot removal. I used the tool to free the pictures from people, in order to emphasize the greatness of this animal when it’s left alone. 

After the arrival of the other ships, I’d say there were at least forty people in the water all at once, and the whale shark was surrounded from all sides. That is a breach of Egypt regulations for preserving marine wildlife, which states that you should swim at least three meters away from the whale shark and not in front of it. The animal couldn’t move as the group followed it everywhere and didn’t move away as they should, including me.

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Government rules for swimming with the whale shark
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There were at least forty people in the water
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The whale shark’s lacked the space to move

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is considered endangered by the IUCD due to commercial fishing and is succumbed to further stress caused by tourists. After returning home, I managed to remove the people from the pictures to get something usable and instead decided to showcase the original photos in this article, to spark awareness and respect for these animals. So if you ever go swim with a whale shark, respect the government rules, or simply stay on the boat and say no.

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