Fathers and children on boat trip have a whale shark of a time

Giant fish makes a rare appearance off coast of RAK to give three families out on a pre-Father's Day sail a special treat.

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RAS AL KHAIMAH // Three dads and their five children were treated to an early Father's Day surprise when a 20-foot whale shark and its entourage of rays and fish greeted their dhow on Saturday. The three fathers, an Argentinean, an Australian and an American, who teach at the Men's College, spend their weekends at sea fishing, sailing and kayaking. However, they said, it was the first time they had seen the speckled whale shark. The men and their crew of young children, ages four to nine, set off on a traditional sailing dhow belong to Daniel Zeytoun Millie. With warm winds behind them they sailed north past the palmy village of Rams and towards Khor Khwair. While they prepared to return, a fever of about 15 rays appeared in the water below. Edward Hogshire, an English instructor at the Men's College who has lived in RAK for five years, said: "As we came back I took the helm, the rudder, and I saw a bunch of rays and right behind them was this enormous whale shark. It was massive, it was beautiful," he said. "It had a really cool presence." The gentle creature circled the boat seven or eight times, its spotted back floating just a few inches below the surface, lingering by the boat's motor, which was turned off. "The kids would follow the shark around the boat. It obviously liked the attention because it kept coming back," Mr Hogshire said. The boys were delighted but Felicitas, aged 4, began crying when she heard the word 'shark'. Her father, Emiliano Villanueva, explained that the great creature was in fact the world's largest fish species. "At the end she was really happy," Mr Hogshire said. The whale shark arrived with its own escort of slinky fish, between six inches and two feet long, which follow whale sharks to feed off leftovers or for an easy ride across the seas. Whale sharks are regularly spotted by fisherman and have earned their way into local lore. One story recalls the crew of fisherman from Rams who mistook the giant fish for an island and hopped on its back to picnic, before the ground below them began to tremble and sink into the sea. Dr Saif al Ghais, the executive director of the Environment Protection and Development Authority of Ras al Khaimah, said "Very often, especially in deep waters, there will be whale sharks towards the Rams area and closer to the entrance of the Gulf, especially near Khor Khwair. But it is very rare to see them at this time of year." Whale sharks are an endangered species but there is no estimation of their population in the Gulf, Dr al Ghais said. "People [in RAK] do not report them when they see them. It is something normal to them." Any siting is great news, he said: "They show you how healthy your ecosystem is." For Mr Hogshire, it was the perfect father's day gift before he had to leave his sons, aged four and five, to return to work in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. azacharias@thenational.ae