Samuel Mangi was aboard a diving boat in Watamu, Kenya, recently when he spotted something peculiar.
The photographer works with BahariHai, a marine conservation organization, and he was on a diving trip with Turtle Diving Watamu, according to a Sept. 21 social media post. The group was making its way to its second diving location when a “big blue shadow with majestic white dots” passed by.
It was a whale shark escorted by smaller sharks, BahariHai wrote on Facebook. A video shows the creature swimming close to the top of the surface.
“This is a beautiful sighting, showcasing the beauty hidden in the Watamu Marine Protected Area,” the post said.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world — and the largest fish known to have existed on Earth, according to the Georgia Aquarium. Their average length is between 18 and 32 feet. They are known to live in the Pacific Ocean, Indian Ocean and tropical Atlantic.
The massive filter-feeding creatures have unusually large mouths that can be up to 4 feet long, experts said. Although the sharks do not use their teeth to feed, they have about 300 rows of tiny teeth on each jaw.
The “gentle giants” are distinguishable by their white spots, which are unique to each individual, similar to human fingerprints, World Wildlife Fund experts said.
Mangi said he was filled with “a wave of emotion” when he spotted the shark.
“I was thrilled,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “While capturing the amazing whaleshark swim gently in the open water, I felt fulfillment within me and passionate about my calling in Marine conservation.”
Watamu is on the southeastern coast of Kenya.