Save for being asleep for the last 10 years you can’t fail to know that sharks are endangered. Unless shark finning and other damaging activities stop abruptly I fear that we might be the last generation to see these magnificent creatures in the wild. The sharks at Chumphon Pinnacle, Koh Tao are no exception. Over the years we have seen numbers dwindle and their re-appearance each year was always cause to celebrate. Now we just live in hope that they will return again one day.
I remember when I first dived here. A dive that still ranks in my top 10; we were on a trip to dive Chumphon Pinnacle twice and we decided to go in just once during everyone’s surface interval. We were circled by sharks, so many of them. I’ve never seen them in those kinds of numbers since and I fear I never will.
The debate still rages on Koh Tao as to exactly what species of shark they were. Some will tell you that they were large Grey Reef Sharks and others will declare that they were Bull Sharks.
There were certainly some large bulky no nonsense sharks frequenting Chumphon Pinnacle and to my mind and eye they did seem to get larger every year. Each year we noticed some juveniles too so it would seem to be a safe assumption that the same colony returns each year with their young. The size, shape and colour of the sharks are signifiers of the species and certainly some of the sharks there seem to be too large and bulky for reef sharks. A Grey Reef is more sleek and pointy whereas a bull is stockier and blunter. Their dorsal fins are different too, again the reefs have a more pointy upright aspect to their dorsal fin and the bulls have more of a windswept chunky triangle type of fin. Both species exhibit darker areas on the edges of their tail fins but this will be more pronounced on a reef shark. Now this is all very well and easy to mentally compile while reading this but once in the water my brain simply screams Shark! Further, the two species, and it is quite possible that there are two species there, hardly model next to each other to allow you to compare!
Theories have been brought forward that there were simply two species there which is leading to the confusion. Koh Tao does have a significant population of grey reef sharks in other locations so it’s entirely possible. Further, it’s been suggested that this bulkier species could just be juvenile bulls, this I’m not so sure about as they seem to travel back each year with juveniles. Another theory is that they are simply a variant of one or the other species. In years gone by they were probably a significant species with a large population but have now dwindled. Given that as little as 20 years ago Koh Tao was somewhat of remote location globally, it’s entirely possible that this off shoot community of sharks have existed without formal identification or classification.
The plight of the shark is now critical in our oceans and it’s a crying shame that they may have disappeared altogether without us ever understanding what they really are. There’s so little we know about them, we don’t even know where they went or what they did when they were not gracing the waters around Chumphon Pinnacle. There are many groups dedicated to saving the shark and a simple Google search will tell you the many ways you can get involved and help. Their biggest enemy unsurprisingly is man. Their desire for shark fin soup and other shark related products, netting to protect swimming areas, long line fishing and other fishing methods which accidentally snare shark instead of the intended catch all contribute to the drastically reducing populations. Sharks take a long time to mature which means they will take a long time to recover too. It doesn’t bode well.