Threshers Before Breakfast
Adventure charter in Malapascua
Feb. 5, 2006 01:00 PM
The long whip-like tail, large eye, silver sheen on its side, and the ease with which it glides through the water little well prepare you for your first thresher shark sighting.
Inspired by fellow diver Scotty Tuason, I travelled to Cebu in the Visaya Islands, Philippines, where I dived with Dutch, German, and Spanish divers, all eager to catch a glimpse of these elusive sharks, which belong to the “Mackarel Shark” family.
Threshers feed on mackarel and small tuna by encircling schools and stunning them with whips, or thrashes, of their tail – hence the name: thresher.
Malapascua is believed to be the the only place on the globe where divers can reliably see thresher sharks, at a place called Monad Shoal – the top of a seamount where these sharks arrive at dawn, to be cleaned by a collection of wrasses.
Each morning at 6 a.m., the 24-meter long filipina outrigger, “Exotic 3,” scoots out to Monad Shoal, to put divers in the water soon after first light. We settle on the seamount at a depth of about 23 meters and wait for the sharks to arrive, at one of three cleaning stations. Mantas, mobula rays, and eagle rays visit too.
Threshers are usually very shy, and it is often in the last few minutes of a dive that the threshers can be seen. The trick is to breathe very slowly when the sharks arrive, as the bubbles can spook the sharks. The threshers though are full of surprises, so be sure to look behind you, and upwards also – the sharks sometimes break their own rules of shyness, passing right over your head.
One dawn, a pair of threshers arrived at a cleaning station and started circling in front of us, then passed behind and kept circling for some time, six metres away. My Nikon whirred and I’d shot off 30 shots in no time.
During another dive in 7-meter visibility, we got buzzed by a 3-meter thresher, very closely. It was a magnificent animal with a big fat belly, which Toto and I decided was pregnant, or had eaten an awful lot of fish the night before.
“The last minute of the shark dive is very important. This is when we often see the threshers” says divemaster Toto. “The first boat and the last boat are often the ones who see the sharks, because too many divers can scare them away.” The peak diving/holiday season at Malapascua, in summer, is not the best time for sharks. The winter months, despite some rain and cloud, is a better time for shark diving. Exotic Dive Resort’s dive masters – Toto, Tutong, and Paul, have hosted film crews and underwater photographers from all over the world.
Thresher sharks are a pelagic species living in tropical and cold-temperate waters worldwide, growing to almost 25 feet in length. The heaviest shark recorded weighed over 750 pounds. The thresher shark is estimated to live 19 to 50 years of age, and it’s also the shark that sometimes leaps from the ocean, together with the Mako.
The threshers are an amazing adrenalin rush and they are Malapascua’s biggest drawcard, but what impressed me just as much was the richness and biodiversity of Malapascua’s soft coral reefs.
Dik de Boer, a Dutch National, and his filipina wife Cora, started the first dive resort on Malapascua Island back in 1997. They first checked out this little island paradise, north of Cebu, in 1996, after reading about the island in a “Lonely Planet” travel guide.
Dik still remembers seeing the first thresher sharks with his friend Mikael Person in 1997. Over the months and years, with the help of local fishermen they also found two Japanese WW2 shipwrecks and a Manila-Cebu ferry that was already known as a great wreck dive. With such a selection of wreck dives, thresher sharks, and reef dives, Dik and Cora, set up the Exotic Dive Resort, and over the years expanded the operation to include three large dive boats and a nitrox facility.