A Scuba Diving Story

Whalesharks in Koh Tao

A Life Changing Experience!

One of the Coolest Moments Of My Life

One of our Divemaster candidates, Kaj Bartele, talks about a life changing experience he had last month whilst scuba diving off Koh Tao.

Where It All Started….

When I first came to the island 4 years ago I completed my PADI Open Water course with Crystal Dive. It was an experience I wouldn’t forget for the rest of my life. The feeling of breathing underwater, swimming between not only the fish but snakes, rays and so much more was awesome. I only had time to complete the Open Water course because my flight back home was already booked but I promised myself I would return!


Dreaming I Was Blowing Bubbles

It took a further 4 years to finish everything back home. And in all that time the feeling of scuba diving was there, at the back of my mind during class, and in my dreams during sleep. When I finished college it didn’t take long to know what I wanted to do. I wanted to scuba dive. And where better to do it than where I discovered everything – Koh Tao.


I returned to Koh Tao 3 weeks ago now and I was excited to pick up where I had left off. Being in the pool refreshing my skills made me feel confident and everything felt really natural. As I remembered the feeling when underwater. I wanted to finish the scuba review as quickly as I could because all I wanted to do was get back in the ocean.

Exciting Talk of a Life Changing Experience

Even more exciting was talk at the bar during the evenings. There were sightings of the most awesome thing you can see in the ocean. The majestic whaleshark. I remembered from my first visit 4 years ago hearing the dive chatter – that seeing the biggest fish in the ocean was truly a transformational experience!


I’d heard it was life changing! But my mind wasn’t on the whaleshark yet. I wanted to see every fish and creature I could. I dived 4 times a day and sometimes 5 and saw everything from jelly fish to rays and back. After seeing everything the buzz about the whaleshark become more and more. The expectation started to weigh on me and it was heavy. They were around and everybody wanted to see them.

So near, yet so far!

I finished my Advanced Open water and the Rescue Diver course and I was fun diving in order to get my dives up to the minimum 40 required to begin the Divemaster course. It was then when I heard something everybody wants to hear – WHALESHARK!

I was on the boat at the time, and everybody was freaking out with excitement. By the time, we entered the water the Whaleshark had already gone. I felt that bad I was almost sick! I thought it was my one and only opportunity to see one. Who knows when it would show itself again. The exciting chatter on the boat between the people who actually saw the whale shark only made things worse.

Of course, you were happy and excited for them but knowing you were so close, yet so far was a hard pill to swallow.

Finally – A Whaleshark!

I fun dived for a while and after a few weeks I saw an opportunity to do a deep dive at the famous Sail Rock. Everybody told me Sail Rock was the best dive site around Koh Tao. I was very excited to dive Sail Rock and in the back of my mind stories of recent sightings of the whale shark where boosting my own hopes of seeing one too.

After a 2-hour boat trip we were finally there. We jumped in to the water but because of the conditions the visibility was poor. The deep dive was fun but it was not the dive I was hoping for and not the one where I would see a whale shark.

Because of the conditions, we decided against a second dive at Sail Rock, instead visiting a second location Southwest Pinnacle. The reason we chose Southwest was our captain had heard on his radio there was a sighting of a whale shark there. As you can imagine everybody was very excited.

Could this be the dive that I would finally see it?

When we were there the visibility was way better than our previous dive at Sail Rock. I brought my GoPro with me, anticipating I was about to experience something very special. As we descended there was an abundance of fish and everything was very clear. I got some good shots and even without seeing a whale shark it was a nice dive.

And then, it happened….

One of the Instructors made the signal everybody dreams of seeing under water. A ‘W’ on the forehead. He pointed in the direction and I swam faster than at anytime before. And there it was. A fish about 6 meters in length but your feeling was it was twice that!

Swimming along, so peacefully and gracefully. After my initial shock and excitement, I made a short film with my GoPro. I had to kick my ass off to keep up with him and must have blown 60 bar of air but the feeling of swimming with this gentle giant was awesome and unreal.

We went up and everybody was smiling and laughing, everybody felt great. When I was on the boat I watched my video for about 20 times. I was reliving the moment over and over again. After this dive I knew there was something different about myself. It was a transformation experience and seeing a whale shark had changed me. I can honestly say that it was one of the coolest moments of my life.

Author: Kaj Bartele (PADI Divemaster Trainee)

About The Author: 
Hi, my name is Kaj Bartele and I lived in Amsterdam, Holland before coming to Koh Tao. I am 26 years old and a Divemaster Candidate half way through a Divemaster Internship program at Crystal Dive, Koh Tao.

Crystal Dive Koh Tao

7/1 Moo 2
Tambon Ko Tao
Koh Tao
Surat Thani

E-mail: info@crystaldive.com

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