Telling Tails on Malapascua

Author: Rachel Lee Horsfield

It’s already warm. All thoughts of having woken at 0430 are dispelled as the moon hangs in a sky of midnight blue. Somewhere along the horizon the sun begins to lift the night away and the dawn creeps in. The sea seems purple against the sunrise. You forget that it’s 0500 as the day begins to show its colours, but your thoughts are someway beneath the waves already. You share a knowing grin with your buddy. The boat slows and you make your final preparations to begin the adventure. As you jump into the ocean the thrill of what is to come builds. You waste no time descending. Upon reaching the shallower part of the shoal you ignore the otherwise attention seeking anemonefish and follow your guide on down, skirting by the triggerfish and leaving the garden eels for dust and sand. With every glance into the deep blue you imagine a fin, a tail, that large eye.

As you kneel on the sandy slope just short of the cleaning station, your eyes adjust to the blue-grey water before you. The level of anticipation quickens your pulse. Your senses are primed to the sharpest degree. Sit. Watch. Wait. Imagine. Soon all you hear are your bubbles as your only thoughts are on seeing the famous denizens of Malapascua. Your eyes pick out a fleck of silver and a shadow moves in the blue. You inhale as your eyes widen and you strain to see more. The sleek, strong and elegant outline of a Thresher Shark emerges before you. Keep still. The slightest jerk will send these skittish creatures back into the blue yonder and down away from your sight. The shark comes closer and then you see a second and even a third or fourth join the group. They begin to circle over the cleaning station, allowing the cleaner wrasse to perform their morning ablutions. Their circles continue and they come ever closer. Now you can really see their sweeping, tapering, elongated tails that make these creatures so famous. Flick, flick, flick, swish, swish, swish. The sharks continue swimming, performing figures of eight. They swim around your head and over your shoulder with their large eyes fixed on you. The pointed face seems to be forever anxious and inquisitive. Squeals of delight peel from divers all around - but take care – the sharks can disappear as quickly as they emerged before you. It has been known for up to ten individuals to make an appearance simultaneously. Where would you look as this silver and blue fantasy played out before you?! Tempting as it is to focus on what is in front of you, take care to look over your shoulder as sometimes the sharks come barrelling in over the top of the shoal, down the sandy slope and right past unsuspecting divers looking in the other direction. Be prepared for a surprise! The sharks can appear at shallower levels too. Imagine jumping in, your bubbles clear, and as you descend to 15 metres, just below you is the zig and the zag of that beautiful body. At Monad Shoal you can have it all; sharks above you, sharks below you, sharks sweeping in over your shoulder and over your head!

Monad Shoal is accessible to all Advanced Open Water divers and dives here are offered daily. Thresher Shark Divers have a permanent buoy line at the southern end of the shoal, which makes for an easy descent to around 17 metres to reach the top of the plateau. Monad Shoal is a submerged island (roughly the same size as Malapascua itself) that rises from the Marakina Trench, a deep stretch of water running between Cebu and Leyte in the central Philippines. Thresher Sharks enjoy the darkness (one reason they have very large eyes!) and so are generally feeding too deep for recreational divers to be able to enjoy. However, we all like to get clean of a morning and so every dawn, once the sharks have enjoyed their fishy meals they come to get ‘washed’! Monad Shoal is a collection of ‘cleaning stations’. Cleaner Wrasse including the Moon Wrasse and the Blue-streaked Wrasse make their homes on various rocky outcroppings jutting off the plateau. A sandy slope leads from the plateau down to the various cleaning stations. Most of the action takes place at around 32 metres. Here divers can sit and witness the sharks circling as the wrasse do their work. Other stations exist at between 30 and 18 metres. It is not unusual for divers to only make it to the first cleaning station and no further, since the shark sightings here can be prolonged and scintillating experiences.

The sharks seen at Monad Shoal are Pelagic Thresher Sharks. These differ from the Common Thresher Shark and the Big-eye Thresher Shark as they have a greater gap between the pectoral and dorsal fins. Common Thresher Sharks have a more obvious white stomach and tend to be somewhat stockier. Those who dive with Thresher Shark Divers can take a unique PADI Distinctive Speciality course to learn all about the Thresher Sharks of Monad Shoal as well as the history of the shark encounters in this region. The course also takes in two dives to tour the cleaning stations, encouraging divers to observe the cleaner wrasse and the behaviour patterns of the sharks, as well as to determine the sex of the individuals.

Thresher Shark Divers also take divers to a second site where two cleaning stations attract Thresher Sharks and Manta Rays! Shark Point and Manta Point lie very close to one another and lucky divers can enjoy double helpings of these beautiful creatures in one dive!


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