When your alarm goes off at 4a.m there is always an initial moment of horror at being woken in the middle of the night. Luckily for us, this was soon overtaken by the excitement of our reason for this early wake-up, to dive with thresher sharks!! We had sensibly set ever out the night before so it was just a case of dressing and walking the 5 minutes to the dive centre where we met up with Angus our instructor for the Thresher Shark Specialty. He had done the briefing the night before so we just got to sit on the comfy beanbags and wait for everyone before heading out on the boat. You take a small boat out to the larger dive boats and we watched the sun rise along the horizon as we sped out to Monad Shoal. The shoal is a sunken underwater island that is 1.5km long and drops down more than 200m. Luckily the threshers head up to various cleaning stations between 15-30m to be cleaned just before sunrise and so advanced open water divers or equivalent can descend for a hopeful close encounter with these majestic beauties.
In order to increase our bottom time we were diving on nitrox for this dive, a blend of air with a higher percentage of oxygen and as a result lower nitrogen absorption, the part divers have to worry about. As we descended and headed along the sandy ledge at 27m we encountered a range of larger fish including batfish, triggerfish and even an eagle ray also there to be cleaned by the blue streaked cleaner wrasse. We swam along to a cleaning station and luckily for us there was a female circling being cleaned. Sharks have to continuously swim to breathe through their gills and so they swim in tight circles to allow the cleaning fish to do their job. We settled down and watched while the female circled again and again before a male swooped in behind her and she was off. Shark mating can get rather frenzied with a lot of biting that can sometimes even result in death of the female so it is no surprise she wasn’t staying to hang around. The male was quicker about his cleaning with a few quick circles. It was great that we had experienced the behaviour and we headed back along to the mooring line when we had another chance very close encounter with a female causally swimming by. She circled back to check us out before swimming off. The way the sharks move with their incredibly long tale is so majestic to watch and their large eyes give them a very cute look.
We ascended ecstatic and headed back to Oscars for our free breakfast which was included in our package. It offered both Western and Asian options so I opted for the nasi goreng which was delicious. We chilled out there for an hour or so before hopping onto the day boat taking us out for our trip to the Dona Marilyn and Gato Island. Thresher Shark Divers offer quite a few trip options but it completely depends on what the larger groups want to do. We were really lucky that the group we were with wanted to go back to Gato to find a camera they had lost the day before. It was an hour and a half boatride out to the Dona Marilyn and our divemaster was Gary. After a short briefing we jumped in and descended down. The Dona Marilyn is a 98m long former ferry that sank in 1988 during a typhoon and sadly during which 389 people lost their lives. It lies at 33m and I was immediately struck by how big it looked. We descended down to the bottom and gradually swam along checking in all the nooks and crannies. There was a swim-through section where you entered the ship and you could look back and see along almost the entire length of the ship which was really cool. It was teeming with life and we spotted numerous fish including; batfish, sweetlips, pufferfish and another eagle ray. We swam back along the top where the current was a lot stronger before ascending back up. The Visayas are not known for wreck diving but this is a must-see if you are diving Malapascua.
We had a short one hour surface interval during which time we headed over to Gato Island before jumping back into the water. There are a couple of dives you can do here but given we were only doing one we opted for the South Wall for a chance to spot white tip sharks. The current was strong and so we done a drift dive along the first section of wall where we spotted lots of clams, nudibranchs and even some barracuda. However, when we turned to go up we were faced with a head on current. Luckily I had my new fins and so it wasn’t too much of a struggle with the OMS Slipstreams. As we passed by a small cave area we spotted a white tip resting under the cave to miss the current (sharks are so clever). We on the other hand had to hold on for dear life to prevent us being swept away as we watched him chilling probably wondering what we were making all the fuss about. I attempted a couple of shots but one of them sent me flying over a coral bottom and scraped my leg up so we left him in peace and ascended to the boat.
Since it was a day-trip we had sandwiches included for the boat-ride back as well as the orangey Filipino fanta. We had a lot of theory to get through when we got back and so it was straight to the classroom with Angus to learn about sharks. We started off with general shark information such as the difference between grinders (whose teeth are flat to grind shellfish etc) and slicers (whose teeth are sharp and slice off pieces of meat). One of the biggest misconceptions about sharks is that they eat/kill humans. This is simply not true in fact while humans kill hundreds of millions of sharks each year for shark fin soup/fun/because they think they are dangerous sharks on average kill less than 10 people each year meaning you are more likely to die falling out of bed or using a vending machine. Unfortunately, the victimisation of the shark began with the film Jaws (a complete work of fiction) and since then people view sharks as cold blooded killers. Sharks never eat their victims – a common misconception. The small number of attacks each year are usually caused by a simple case of mistaken identity. Surfers (the most common victim) skim along the surface and generally wear black wetsuits making them look a lot like seals the usual food source. So sharks attack and as soon as they realise the person is not a seal let go. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be too late for the person given the strength of the initial bite.
After all the information we were falling asleep and so an iced-coffee helped to perk us up before we headed back to learn specifically about threshers. They are very rarely seen in the wild due to dwelling at depth so Monad Shoal is the only place you can regularly view them being cleaned. We watched some cool videos of breaching behaviour (also used as a cleaning mechanism) before being done! We were definitely ready for dinner and so headed to Malditos for dinner with Tarah; a girl we had met diving who was living in Indonesia. We had some rum and I ordered a creamy seafood gratin with fried potatoes which was pretty good as we watched the most spectacular sunset of the trip. It was amazing! What a day but we couldn’t stay out too late as we had another early 4a.m wake-up for more threshers the next day.