That time I… swam with whale sharks.

During her semester abroad in Australia, junior Jenny Oetzell came face to face with the biggest fish in the sea.



Photo courtesy of Jenny Oetzell

Jenny Oetzell, Writer

This past spring semester I left the Biola Bubble for six months to study abroad in Perth, Australia. As a photojournalism major I was concerned with capturing snapshots of the trip as best as possible. The study abroad and exchange program at Murdoch University, the school I went to “down under,” took us on a trip to the outback of North Western Australia where we saw breathtaking beaches, wild kangaroos and red dirt as far as our eyes could see.


The highlight of this road trip was the opportunity we had to swim with the coolest animal at the Ningaloo Reef — the whale shark. These massive sharks can grow to be the size of a school bus and dive to depths human technology cannot even track. Though they feed on krill, they are still intimidating to snorkel next to.

The tour was going really well. The whale sharks were roaming near the surface of the reef and were easy to catch up with. I was taking great photos on my GoPro and the photographer was getting awesome photos of my group. All of my friends were having a fantastic time and we could not imagine the day getting better. Then it did.


Our boat crew told us to get ready for the last dive of the day. Since my expectations were already surpassed, I did not think the last dive would be anything special. I decided to leave my camera on the boat to ensure I was “living in the moment.” As soon as I put my mask on and jumped into the water, I saw an enormous whale shark heading straight toward me with its mouth wide open, a huge black hole full of krill. As if that was not freaky enough, I looked to my left and saw a second whale shark coming in my direction. I frantically looked around at my friends and the strangers I met that day and gave them a huge thumbs up. Then there was a third. Three massive whale sharks, all within 40 feet of each other, circled around us. Two of the sharks were swimming slowly, one over the other, moving side-to-side in an alternating way. When the guides acted as surprised as we were, I realized this was not a common occurrence. Instead of guiding us out of the way of the colossal fish, they just let out muted screams of joy through their snorkels.


No amount of photos or videos could have done this moment justice. Though my photographer anxiety skyrocketed when I realized I had no way to capture this moment, I was too excited and dumbfounded to care. This was one of those moments God was inviting me to enjoy His creation. It is like seeing a breathtaking sunset and your phone is dead. Or spotting dolphins playing in the waves at the beach and your camera cannot zoom in enough. These are the times when all I can do is say, “Okay God, I see you.” Good thing I left my camera on the boat.


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