ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS about diving is that even after many years of diving, something new can suddenly turn up at an unexpected time.
On a liveaboard trip aboard Similan Explorer (run by Similan Diving Safaris in Khao Lak, Thailand) we always start the trip with an easy check dive.
On this occasion we did this at Koh Chi in the Surin Islands. After jumping in for the early morning dive I was shadowing the group, taking a few photos of the coral and anemones.
I didn’t expect to see much out of the ordinary – just the usual reef fish or perhaps one of the resident turtles or sting rays.
Next thing I saw something large swimming in the gloom. It was swimming towards me, above the granite boulders, and as it came closer I saw that it was a bowmouth guitarfish – my first sighting of one ever!
It swam right over the top of me, then turned and came back to me – seeming to check me out. Possibly I was the first scuba diver it had seen, so it was as curious of me as I was of it. Then it turned and sped away into the deep.
The bowmouth guitarfish (Rhina ancylostoma) is a type of elasmobranch (the group that includes sharks and rays), but is the only member of the family Rhinidae. Its fins resemble those of sharks, but the gills are located on the underside, as with rays.
These large fish (growing up to 2.7m long, this individual was approx 2m) are found in the coastal areas of the Indian and western Pacific Oceans. They are more active at night, feeding on fish and crustaceans.
They are uncommon throughout their range, and listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
As such, encountering one under water takes a bit of luck. My entire encounter lasted only about 20 seconds, but left me with photos and memories that I'm sure will last a long time!