Harmless whale shark sets off panic on Rayong beach

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Once common in the northern Gulf of Thailand, whale sharks have become so rare that when one appeared off the coast in Rayong, it set off a panic from beachgoers who didn’t realize that what they were seeing was harmless.

Commonly found in the southern gulf and in the Andaman Sea, whale sharks are one of only three known species of filter-feeding sharks. While its mouth has approximately 300 teeth, they are so small, they pose no threat to humans or any large animal. Whale sharks feed on macro-algae, plankton, krill, Christmas Island red crab larvae, and small squid or vertebrates.

Only the dorsal fin is visible from the shoreline.Only the dorsal fin is visible from the shoreline.

Only seeing the dorsal fin above water, and not knowing what it was, people who spotted the great beast off Mae Ramoung Beach Dec. 4 initially feared the worst. But their fears turned to amazement with Marine officers went out and identified the 1,000 kg. shark, thankfully only shooting pictures. In the past, fishermen and hunters depleted the northern gulf of nearly all whale sharks.

After finding out the whale shark is harmless, some brave souls even went snorkeling with it, taking some underwater photos.After finding out the whale shark is harmless, some brave souls even went snorkeling with it, taking some underwater photos.

Fisherman Prasert Sangkharak, 51, said he’s seen this shark before, but remembers being surprised when seeing the huge dark shadow in the depths. He said it often comes to the area during the winter months to feed on schools of seasonal fish. Other than grabbing a photo of it on his phone, he said he’s left the endangered whale shark alone.