Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Whales in the wild: rare gem amid Thailand mass tourism

December 13, 2016 by Delphine Thouvenot

The way that Bryde's whales feed is the greatest biomechanical event in the world, says a Thai whale-spotting guide

Piercing the water's surface with its almond-shaped mouth, a giant Bryde's whale opens wide for one, two, three seconds, gulping in anchovies as a boatload of awed tourist look on in the Gulf of Thailand.

It's a rare glimpse of marine life in its natural habitat, in a kingdom overrun with mass tourist attractions such as aquariums and dolphin shows.

Once a dream for scuba divers, many of Thailand's coral reefs have been dulled by pollution, over-fishing and increased boat traffic, as well as over-enthusiastic swimmers.

But going out to spot Bryde's whales is a relatively new concept.

The 15-metre (50-foot) long mammals flock to the northern Gulf waters to feed on an abundance of anchovies during the September to December rainy season.

Many tourists come out to catch a glimpse of their unique feeding habits—observing the way they keep their mouths agape for seconds at a time.

"The way they eat is the greatest biomechanical event" in the world, said Jirayu Ekkul, who takes groups out on his converted fishing boat to spot the whales just a few hours from the bustling capital Bangkok.

The devoted diver and wildlife photographer's company Wild Encounter Thailand is among only a handful offering whale watching excursions in the Gulf of Thailand.

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