If you were to ask us our favourite place to snorkel in Kenya, we would most likely say Kinyika; it is a tiny coral island that sits in the Indian Ocean about a kilometre off the north Kenyan coast. This island creates an incredible eco-system; many seafaring birds use it as a refuge and nesting ground, below the waves on the inland side there is a protected coral garden bustling with colourful reef fish and nurseries. Then there is the outer reef where huge shoals of larger fish and pelagic can be found, there is a shy family of Hump Head Parrotfish and a big Napoleon Wrasse. There are also juvenile reef sharks and most days a pod of playful dolphins visit the rock.
When ever we are in the Lamu Archipelago we try to make at least one trip to Kinyika… if its good we make as many as possible! So you can imagine when we heard there had been a Whaleshark spotted there, we planned a trip for the next day, even though conditions were not great. This was an opportunity we couldn’t resist!
Being large creatures that can cover a lot of ground we decided to detour our journey to Kinyika via Mwamba Kitau, a well known underwater pinnacle sitting north of Kinyika along the same reef line. When we arrived there was hungry birds diving into a bait ball of feeding fish, too tempting not to get a look from below the waves. So we jumped in with our cameras to check it out, but the visibility was so bad! We saw flashing silver as school of Bonito flew through the water below us and with no way of know what else was feasting at the feeding frenzy, we decided it was safer to get back in the boat and continue our mission. So, ever hopeful, we motored on, constantly scanning the choppy water, but with the conditions the way they were we were wondering whether we were chasing unicorns.
As we arrived at Kinyika we were greeted by numerous pods of feeding dolphins and then Bakari the boat captain shouted “Papa Shillingi!” and we couldn’t believe it. On the other side of the boat was a large dark outline of a Whale Shark gliding with ease though the water. It looked relaxed so we geared up and gently slid into the water a safe distance so as not to spook it. It was low spring tide so the water was about 6 metres deep and the rush of the out going tide had really churned it up, so we swam slowly through the murky water towards where it had been spotted, then out of the gloom the gentle giant appeared! The Whale Shark was a young one, only about 5 metres and just as curious of us as we were of it, every time we dove down it would gracefully turn towards us for a closer inspection, a real poser for the camera too! It was so relaxed that we spent about an hour swimming together, with the occasional visit from a passing pod of dolphin and even a black tip made a swift appearance. What a spectacular morning!
We never thought Kinyika could get much better with the variety on offer but the Whale Shark proved it could! Check out the video to see for your self!