Magnificent Photos of Swimming With Whale Sharks

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

It may sound surprising to hear that a photographer traveled all the way across the globe to take some photos of fish. But this wasn't just any photographer, and these weren’t just any fish. This was world renowned conservation photographer Pete Oxford. And the fish? Whale sharks. Enormous – the largest fish in the sea, in fact – and magnificent. Reaching lengths of 40 feet and weighing in at some 20 tons, they are simply massive. While the whale part is a bit of a misnomer – they really are fish, not mammals – they are indeed more docile than aggressive. They feed on plankton and other small prey caught in the water that they sieve for food, much in the manner of baleen whales. In one part of the world, they are even seen as good luck charms. It is here that Oxford traveled to – Cenderawasih Bay off the Province of Papua and West Papua. It is Indonesia’s largest national park and a spot known for its remarkable aggregation of whale sharks. The following photos were taken by Oxford while swimming with the sharks and also exploring the relationship between the fish and the local fisherman. Seeing the sharks as talismans for good fortune, the fisherman feed the sharks with scraps from their catch. It has created an unusual alliance; one that is lovely, but also raises questions about just how much humans should interfere with the lives of wild creatures. Oxford tackles the topic thoughtfully and thoroughly in an essay for the multimedia magazine, bioGraphic, who kindly shared the photos with TreeHugger. You can read the whole article here; it's a fascinating glimpse into the lives of these animals – and the story of what it was like to be amongst these gentle giants will give you chills ... the good kind. In the meantime, look at the majestic photos here. And take a moment to marvel at yet another example of the extraordinary gifts our planet has to offer. Page two >>

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

A free-diver swims alongside a whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia.

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

Juvenile golden trevallies ride in the slipstream in front of the whale shark’s mouth, seemingly piloting the giant through the water.

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

A whale shark cruises beneath the surface, its outline bathed in refracted light.

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

A young fisherman, without mask, snorkel, or flippers jumps in with a whale shark as the behemoth passes by his bagan.

credit: Pete Oxford via bioGraphic

In many areas of the South Pacific, fishermen use floating platforms from which to set illuminated nets to attract and catch baitfish at night. In Cenderawasih Bay, these same platforms, called bagans, also attract whale sharks, which feed on the same baitfish the fishermen target (left). Another one surfaces beneath the Damai, the sailboat which served as the photographer's home base while in Cenderawasih Bay (right). See bioGraphic for the whole package: Good Luck Sharks :