By David Aspinall
A diver almost became a real-life Joan-ah thanks to a perfectly timed photo which made it look like she was being eaten by a whale shark.
Marine biologist Kori Garza was diving off the coast of Papua, Indonesia, earlier this month [January 9] when she was greeted with a giant shark measuring almost seven metres [23ft] in length.
As the giant animal swam around the 27-year-old, diving partner and friend Etoile Smulders captured the moment the shark passed overhead.
At that precise moment, the top half of Kori’s body was completely covered by the animal’s huge body, revealing just her legs, making it look like she was being eaten by the whale shark.
Shark advocate Etoile, 25, said: “I was lucky to react quickly and capture this moment while also laughing quite hard.
“So often sharks are portrayed as ‘man eaters’ in the media, but those are always images of great whites or other large predatory shark species.
“As a filter feeder it’s not too often you see a whale shark being portrayed as ‘Jaws’, the irony is great.”
Kori was given a very special perspective on from the whale shark, as they are not normally comfortable with other animals swimming under their bellies.
The owner of Ladyshark Expeditions said: “The stomach of a shark – and most marine life – is a vulnerable area, due to it being the softest for predators to attack.
“Typically, they don’t like other animals being underneath them.
“It was special for this shark to not only allow this but seek this path out as if it were investigating me.
“I felt a bit like a human remora in this moment.”
It wasn’t just a unique perspective for Kori – who has been professionally diving with sharks for the last five years – she was also able to help the animal.
Kori said: “I was about a foot underneath its belly when it passed overhead.
“To avoid a collision, I had to pull myself a little bit deeper and it peacefully glided just over the top of me.
“While underneath the shark I noticed there was a large clump of fishing line and plastic wrapped around its reproductive organs.
“I was able to use a knife and cut the debris off the shark.
“I thought this would frighten the shark and cause it to leave but it remained in the area and even interacted with us by coming closer and closer afterwards.”
Etoile lives in Indonesia and is working on projects to promote shark conservation locally and worldwide.
Part of her and Kori’s jobs is to explore new marine environments and explore the relationships between the ocean and humans in more forgotten places in the world.
Etoile said: “We had wanted to film whale sharks but didn’t want to support the whale shark tourism industry of the Philippines.
“It is known for its promotion of animal harassment, modifying behaviour through reinforced mass feedings and lack of regulation.
“So, we decided to follow whispers of a whale shark aggregation site in a more remote area of Indonesia.
“We were thrilled to succeed in our mission to film the whale sharks in a more natural environment.”