Location: St. Helena

It was finally here! The day we have all been looking forward to all semester – whale shark day! The smart thing to do in the past few weeks would have been to manage expectations about the possibility of not seeing any whale sharks when we went snorkeling, but that is not what we did. Instead, we manifested, hoped, dreamed, and gave no room for doubt that we would see any whale sharks today – thankfully, it all paid off! We awoke to the sound of bagpipes this morning and a fresh breakfast of chia seed pudding. Then, after clean up, a boat pulled alongside, and the first group grabbed their snorkel gear, go pros, and towels to go on the hunt for whale sharks. This group included both Amanda’s, Gabe C, Gabe G, Will, Max, Elene, Nat, Katie, David, Tim, Elisabeth, and Beau. The water was pretty choppy for the 45-minute boat ride that they spent with their eyes peeled for massive shadows in the water. When the boat went into neutral and the guide pointed just off the side, spirits soared, and snorkel gear was thrown on! There he was! A gentle giant of the sea swimming a couple of meters below the surface! It took everyone’s breath away-especially Will’s, who screamed upon entry due to the shock of just how big he was. The shark was around 3.5-4m long with his plankton-devouring mouth wide open. (Whale sharks have wide mouths with sandpaper-like teeth to gulp down a lot of seawater/plankton, but a golf ball-sized throat-so no fear of being bitten). After swimming for about a half hour with this amazing animal, he calmly swam into deeper waters and slowly disappeared from view. The boat ride back was filled with blown minds and Cheshire cat-like smiles for what was just witnessed. After getting back to Argo, a chili and cornbread lunch was served, and the second group got ready to go. Group two included Claire, Ben, MG, Nolan, Brina, Emma, Gabe G, Nick, Ellie, Audrey, Peter, Zoe, and me. Our hopes were high after the success of the morning group, and there was an excited buzz in the air for the duration of the boat ride around the coastline of St. Helena. While we were all anxious to get to the whale sharks, we also took in the amazing geography of the island.

Sharp cliffs and rocks that are unmistakably volcanic make up the barren but spectacular coastline of St. Helena. Dotting the cliffs are small white ladders – our guide explained that local fishermen use them to get down to their fishing spots – and the thought of climbing one while carrying fishing gear was nothing short of terrifying. The captain called down from the flybridge that we were five minutes out and to start getting ready because as soon as he spots a shark, we’ll splash. As we all started strapping on fins and go pros, the call came – WHALE SHARK!!!! We looked out into the water, searching, and all of a sudden, a giant shadow appeared off the port side of the boat. The first eight snorkelers hurried into the water, but the couple of us left on the boat weren’t disappointed – the whale shark was coming up to feed, so even from the surface, we got an amazing view of just how massive these creatures are. As we all rotated in and out of the water, everyone was struck with the sheer size, beauty, and grace of our friendly whale shark. We swam with him for about forty minutes before it was time to start heading back. Just as everyone had dried off and started to look through the photos they had captured, our captain spotted another whale shark closer to the coastline! So there was a brief encore as everyone who wanted another turn hopped back in, despite feeling a little chilly. When we returned to Argo, everyone was all smiles, and we were thrilled that the day had been a success for both groups. Our chefs had prepared a comforting dinner of hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, and the night ended with an oceanography class taught by Amanda S.