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Zac Wolf

Swimming With Sharks

Yesterday I wrote about the hot fashion trends being worn at Diva Resort in the Maldives, but truth be told, the hottest accessories to wear here are a mask, snorkel and fins.

The Maldives is one of the best places in the world to see underwater life. The tropical coral reefs are swarming with jewel-coloured fish - around 300 species of them - as well as manta rays, stingrays, sea turtles and assorted sharks, including the real star of the show: the whale shark.

For many people, swimming with a whale shark is a lifelong dream. The lucky COSMOPOLITAN Swimwear shoot crew enjoyed an incredible morning's 'work' yesterday out on a whale shark safari.

After breakfast, we boarded a dhoni boat. These are the traditional boats of the Maldives, which have dramatically tall, curved prows. The dhonis at Diva are double-storied so you can climb the stairs to a sundeck. Since the weather was perfect, we lay sprawled on our towels in the sunshine, supposedly looking out for whale sharks.

In fact, we were lounging around having a fat chat when the crew started calling and pointing excitedly. Although whale sharks are quite common around Diva, it's still a special occasion to see them. And we were luckier than we could ever have hoped.

The first whale shark we saw was swimming quite far down below us. We jumped in with our snorkels, but it had soon gone too deep to see clearly. Undeterred, the crew called us aboard and almost immediately found another whale shark. This one was swimming very slowly, only a couple of metres below the surface, and was totally unbothered by all our splashing and squawking.

Whale sharks look cool in pictures, but they are seriously awesome in the flesh. They're the world's largest living fish (hence the name) but are completely harmless. They're also incredibly beautiful, with skins that look like a cross between aboriginal paintings and a starry night sky. In fact, researchers at Diva use software originally developed for star mapping to identify each whale shark's unique patterns. You can upload your photographs to their database and, if they don't have a record of your whale shark, you get to name it.

I'd been swimming along beside our shark for about 10 minutes when it occurred to me that it would be great if someone took a photo. Perhaps we could call this whale shark 'COSMO'! Looking around to see if anyone had a camera, I saw a sea turtle right next to me. It flapped its flippers in the crystal clear water and stared with its head to one side, as if to say, 'Hmm, some odd fish in the neighbourhood these days.'

I was caught in a terrible quandary: should I hang out with the turtle, or keep swimming along with the whale shark? Turtle or whale shark? Whale shark or turtle? These are the truly tough decisions you face in the Maldives. With an apologetic wave to the turtle, I swam off after the whale shark again.

P.S. Unfortunately, the underwater camera's battery was dead, so we never found out if the whale shark had a name or not. But it will always be COSMO to me.

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Find out more about Diva Resort here.


Author: Alison Westwood
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