For the first time ever the beautiful dive site of Sail Rock in the Gulf of Thailand has received a visit from bull sharks – what do we think? Our recently qualified Divemaster Deborah shares her thoughts.
For anyone who has dived at Sail Rock I don’t need to tell you about it’s beauty or charm. For those of you who haven’t, I’d suggest you do your best to make a dive there. The rock has it’s own particular Eco-system and is it’s own world - almost like a fairytale land submerged in the middle of the ocean, just over an hour’s boat journey from Koh Phangan. I have dived this site over 30 times now and can honestly say that it has never been the same experience for me – but that’s why we dive, to go places we shouldn’t and see things that others can’t!
Sail Rock has depths of up to 40m but most of the reef can be explored and enjoyed from comfortable depths of 12 – 20m. The site is awash with numerous types of fish, each with their own particular character including; wrasse, parrotfish, ‘blissful’ batfish, ‘tricky’ triggerfish, ‘grand old’ groupers and buzzing with ‘barracudas‘. A dive at Sail Rock can be a deeply meditative experience as you swim face to face with a teira batfish whose curiousity clings to you as you glide through the water. At other times strong currents, particularly on the East Pinnacle when the upward and downward swell combine to literally send the fish ‘into a spin’ provide a challenging dive as you struggle to absorb the dizzying sight around you and maintain your own buoyancy! In short, it leaves you slightly giddy (definitely not narcosis) and beaming through your regulator. Either way Sail Rock offers you the unexpected, and sometimes you just get lucky- like when the whale shark comes to town. I’ve been lucky enough to see the whale shark a few times now but still hold my breath when I think about the first time I saw him – the sheer majestic beauty of such a perfect creature was literally jaw-dropping. Better too was the knowledge that this powerful creature could do me no harm. I could gaze in awe and wonder and just breathe into the experience.
The latest visitors to Sail Rock take my breath in a different direction. bull sharks are not the gentle giants of the sea that whale sharks are. Common, prone to aggressive behaviour and favouring to hang out in high-population areas like tropical shorelines it isn’t surprising that National Geographic says:
‘Because of these characteristics, many experts consider bull sharks to be the most dangerous sharks in the world. Historically, they are joined by their more famous cousins, great whites and tiger sharks, as the three species most likely to attack humans.’
In the past few weeks there have been numerous sightings of the sharks. They have been spotted at different depths and locations around the site and both solo and in pairs. I have seen a lone bullshark sitting comfortably next to a beautiful old grouper. On the safety stop for my dive I pointed out the grouper to my guests and everyone smiled and then we suddenly noticed who was sitting next to him. He or she (mixed views on this) was lying on the seabed just watching the world go by and mostly divers descend and ascend. Other divers told me they had seen him out on East Pinnacle so clearly he was doing the rounds.
Nobody is sure why they have chosen to come to Sail Rock for the first time ever. Some people think that the timing of a fishing net on the rock by fisherman and the arrival of the sharks is not co-incidental, the lure of the trapped catch being a tasty treat for them. However, nobody knows. Divers disagree over whether or not the bull sharks are dangerous but like the lure of ‘Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls’ (very apt) divers are beating a path to Sail Rock to have their chance! Many divers have witnessed the sharks in the past few weeks and there have been no reports of any harmful contact with divers despite what the experts tell us:
‘…(bull) sharks are ‘fast, agile predators’ who will eat almost anything they see’
As all licensed divers from Open Water upwards know though most attacks from aquatic life are caused by accident or human carelessness. There are troves of online forums where people debate whether or not bull sharks are harmful to divers as it is often very difficult to ascertain if the attack was unprovoked or the diver’s fault. In other places of the world diving schools are dedicated to diving with Bull Sharks and take extra measures to help protect against attack. However,even those are just precautions and as one such diving school in Mexico advises:
‘Every dive is different and there is no way we can know how the sharks will behave on any given dive’
It is a very interesting time to dive one of the premier dive sites of The Gulf Of Thailand and a genuine opportunity to see fascinating creatures of the sea but important to remember your safety and keep informed. Remember, you’re not in an aquarium – you’re in the wild!
Bull sharks get their name from their short, blunt snout, as well as their pugnacious disposition and a tendency to head-butt their prey before attacking.
Let’s hope we don’t actually have our own version of ‘Running of the Bulls’ at Sail Rock.
Let’s hear your views or help me out if I’ve made errors but better still come aboard with us to Sail Rock. For more info click here