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Swimming with whale sharks – an island tradition

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A swimmer with a whale shark off St Helena. Click the pic to see Julian Beard's video
A swimmer with a whale shark off St Helena. Click the pic to see Julian Beard’s video

Swimming with whale sharks is nothing new on St Helena. Fishermen used to have to fend them off, to avoid taking an unplanned dip alongside them, according to video-maker Julian Beard.

He used a high-tech Go Pro camera to record an encounter with five of the giant creatures off Jamestown – though only two feature in the video he has posted on YouTube.

The camera’s ultra-wide lens makes them appear far closer to the swimmers than they really were, says Julian.

whale shark video link 550

Click the pic to see Julian Beard’s whale shark video

“This is only my second time swimming with whale sharks,” says Julian, “but I saw them on numerous occasions during my childhood. I know loads of people who have been swimming with them for years.

“The last two years are the most I have ever seen: last year 17, this year 35 individuals.

“I remember talking to fishermen about how these giants have lifted the bows of their
boats out of the water as they rub themselves against the boats. Usually you would have to use an oar to push them away from the boat in fear of being flipped over.”

Whale sharks are harmless to humans, but even so, with adults reaching the size of a bus, you’d want to keep them at a safe distance from a small boat.

Scroll down for a gallery of images from Julian’s video

“Swimming with these gentle giants is an experiance of a lifetime,” says Julian. “You feel so tiny beside them as they glide along.

Click the pic to see Julian's video
Click the pic to see Julian’s video

“As long as you respect them they don’t mind you being there. If you start to splash around or jump into the water near them and act erratically they will swim off.

“At the end of the video you will see some tourists from another boat jumping into the water and splashing around, which scared the shark off.”

Julian has also published videos shot while motorcycling around the island, some of them with a large group of fellow bikers.

“I’m trying to compile some videos of activities that Saints get up to during their spare time,” he says. “Many of these activities are slowly dying out. For example, the motorcycle rides use to consist of 60 bikes or more; now they are down to a handful.

“People used to go down to the ocean after work daily and compete in water sports. Now barely anybody does this anymore.

“I’m trying to get a video of people sliding down the Ladder to get into town, which is now something rarely seen. I can remember 15 years ago watching loads of people slide down at the same time.”

  • An electronic tag attached to a whale shark – nicknamed Bella and thought to be pregnant – has enabled scientists to track her movements for several hundred kilometres. Click here to follow Bella’s journey. 

Click on the thumbnails below to see images from Julian Beard’s video

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