Layang Layang: Pelagics and the Star of the Show – Hammerhead Sharks

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The reason why we were at Layang Layang was really for hammerhead sharks and the pelagics that were so famous in that area. The whole area was just wall diving with corals dropping off from zero metres all the way to 2000 metres into an oceanic trench! We were under strict instructions to secure things to ourselves because anything that fell into the abyss certainly would never be retrieved.

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Our first couple of attempts to find hammerheads drew a blank. We saw other animals instead, like pretty green turtles…

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… who were quite friendly and didn’t spook too easily when we got close.

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We had to go further out into the blue, away from the coral walls, to get a better chance of seeing hammerheads. Sometimes, all we saw was each other in the blue…

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… and nothing but bubbles rising. We normally had to go pretty deep as hammerheads are very shy and never get used to divers because as migratory animals they pass by Layang Layang only occasionally in the year.

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Sometimes we got so bored that we’d take pictures of anything in sight, such as this jellyfish relative that join up to form a rope-like organism floating in the water.

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Yet our persistence paid off. On three different occasions we saw hammerheads, and mostly in threes and fours. They were generally pretty deep and hard to capture on camera. This is the best picture I have, where you can clearly see its scalloped head. On another occasion, we saw a few outlines appearing out and down and as we descended lower, just about reaching the 40m limit, more and more shapes appeared in the blue gloom and the dim shapes with high pectoral fin and just barely discernible odd-shaped heads filled in the entire field of vision. It was truly an awe-inspiring vision seeing that school.

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There certainly were other pelagics that were much less shy, such as this dogtooth tuna that I certainly didn’t want to get any closer.

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Thankfully, it swam over my head and off to find smaller prey instead of taking revenge for my penchant for otoro sashimi!

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We saw quite a few reef sharks, including this white tip reef shark that swam away before I could get in any closer for a better picture, and an even shyer thresher shark that I saw for a few seconds before it swam off.

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The friendlier creatures were the manta rays, which we saw quite a few of.  One of them came in at quite shallow depths and sailed past majestically.

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Others were quite deep and some were in flocks and flitted like birds, disappearing before we could react to take photos. There’s something about how they fearlessly continue on their way, not bothering to hide themselves, that really impresses me about this beautiful creature. I don’t think I could ever get sick of seeing them.

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Other pelagics included many members of the trevally family, including schooling big eye trevally, like below.

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And them turning this way and that to form a tornado.

It was another of those amazing sights, and quite mind-boggling, to see these silvery masses of fish turning round and round, probably to trap prey within.

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Other big fish include this bumphead parrotfish that was curious enough to check us out instead of the other way round!

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I’m glad to report that its ferocious-looking beak is used for chomping down on coral and not on divers!

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And before long, our dive time was up and we had to head back to the surface.

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Diving the Similans: Manta Ray

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We’d left the Similans proper and gone up north to Koh Bon where we had a few decent dives but without seeing much that made us go “wow.” DC and I chatted with Vincent, the guy behind Black Manta, who joined in for this trip and he suggested we go with him for the next dive. Hope was up when Vincent came back from the recce dive saying that he saw mantas!

We were very hopeful in the first 20 minutes of the dive but the hope started to fade as the current picked up and the visibility got worse. At one point the whole group was clinging for our lives to a coral outcrop and there wasn’t much to do except hold on tight and not turn my head lest the current rip off my mask. And then Vincent started pointing. We strained our eyes trying to figure out what it was and then our eyes focused and we saw the manta looming in the distance.

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It then disappeared and then for quite a while we hung back in a more sheltered area rather than by the outer walls of Koh Bon. Soon, we noticed that the divers in the far group started to get excited and swim out further. The manta was back!

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Calmly and unhurriedly, it came past, flapping its wings sedately. The slow strokes belied the strength and speed of the motion as we had to hurry to keep up with the big ray.

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This one was a beauty and huge too! Its wingspan must have been at least 4 metres.

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It seemed to want to get closer and play with us as it wheeled and came round a few times.

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Each time it seemed as if it was teasing us by leaving and then turning round in a sedate circle to come back and check us out.

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It was almost as if it was saying to us, “You puny humans, look how tiny and helpless you are and look how big and lovely and graceful I am.”

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It came up magnificently close.

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So close in fact that my camera couldn’t take in the whole creature!

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I could see clearly its eyes, mouth flaps and gills as it sailed past. If my regulator wasn’t in my mouth it’ll probably have been agape at this majestic sight.

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Soon it was over and the giant manta ray wheeled for the last time and swept back off into the distance.

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