From late April through May, then again in September and October, fortunate visitors to the Taba Heights area may be lucky enough to spot, and maybe even interact with, Rhincodon typus – the Whaleshark. Sightings in 2012 started at the beginning of May, when specimens were spotted just off the beach of the Intercontinental hotel, at the diving/snorkeling site “Fjord”, at Farun Island, and even 10m from the beach at Red Sea Waterworld in the dive centre’s confined diving area. In the first few days, staff and guests at Red Sea Waterworld took the opportunity to swim with Whalesharks between 5m and 7m long, and accounts from happy snorkellers included “that was spiritual”, “I’ve always wanted to do this”, ”It’s touched my soul” and “Well, that’s one I can tick off the bucket list!”. Waterworld observes a strict policy regarding interaction with the animals – swimmers are not allowed to touch or swim in front of the animals, and boat engines are cut to allow the Whaleshark to pass close by if it wishes to do so.
The biggest Whaleshark ever recorded was over 12 metres long, but the animals are thought to grow even larger than this. They are the largest fish in the sea – but survive on a diet consisting mainly of tiny plankton. The Whalesharks swim close to the surface of the sea, where their huge wide mouths scoop up everything in their path, and then plankton and small fish are filtered from the resulting jumble. The fish are normally grey with white spots among pale vertical and horizontal stripes, with a white belly – this colouration helps camouflage them from above and below and they can be quite difficult to spot.
Despite being huge, Whalesharks are passive, docile fish which sometimes allow humans to swim with them for long distances. Once they tire of the attention, they either rapidly accelerate away, or simply descend into the depths, making any time spent with them feel precious and a real privilege.
Of course, turtles are regularly spotted in this area, and at varying times, we have encounters with dolphins (individuals, pairs, and whole pods) passing along the coast. The majority of sightings of the more exotic creatures in the Taba Heights area are from the daily snorkeling trips or the dive boats, as these vessels have the opportunity to ply some of the quiet waters to the North and South of the resort, but guests should always keep an eye on the sea directly from their Hotel’s beach, as you never know what wonders are passing by…