Craig Nelson was on hand with his camera when the whale shark blew into Ras Mohammed
FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS, I have travelled regularly to the Far East, hoping that one day I would be blessed with a sighting of an elusive pelagic giant - a whale shark. To my surprise, however, it was the shores of the Red Sea that recently provided me with my first encounter. Arriving in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh after a two-year absence, I met some old friends who were quick to share their information on a whale shark encounter at Ras Mohammed just off the Shark & Jolanda Reef, two days before my arrival! I was sickened. I should have taken that Saturday flight! Next morning I was on the boat. No guesses where we were heading for. Expectations were not high when we arrived at the National Park, and indeed there was no whale shark sighting, though the dive was classic Ras Mohammed, with masses of snapper, barracuda and batfish around. Was I asking too much for the whale shark to stick around for me and my camera? It appeared so. After lunch and a nap enforced by the heat of the day, the boat began moving towards our next dive site. I woke to a commotion, thinking we were sinking - whale shark! We were some 400m out from the reef plate at Shark Reef, and from the top deck we could see the 5.5m gentle giant just off the bow. We raced for our snorkelling gear and cameras. I was about to jump when the skipper stopped me. He had a plan. We would watch for a while and find a place to drop me directly into the shark's path. So there I was, 400m out in the blue above the abyss with my camera, waiting for the shark to appear out of the mist. Was I suppose to move out of its way when it came? I wasn't sure. As it was, perhaps it liked the look of itself in my dome port - or was it just inquisitive about the ugly fish behind it? I grabbed a few shots, and before I knew it the shark was gliding into the distance, and my resistance to the prevailing current was becoming futile. Back on the boat, I got my scuba gear on and made the jump with Alin, my guide. We placed ourselves at about 5m and hoped. Yet again, I thanked the skipper as the shark arrived. It appeared so slow and graceful, mouth gaping. I began to wonder just who was watching who, as our eyes met a mere arm's length apart. The shark made no attempt to rid itself of its human parasites. It was almost as if it desired our company, basking in our scuba Jacuzzi. Only when we were joined by traffic from other boats did our new friend decide that enough was enough, and headed off into the blue. It's good to know that Ras Mohammed can still punch its weight alongside all those more exotic, expensive destinations.