Incredible moment shark almost swallows diver
With its cavernous mouth wide open the 30ft long fish looms up behind Sam and appears to be about to make an easy meal out of her.
But luckily for her the creature is a harmless whale shark that prefers the taste of plankton and small fish to human flesh.
The picture was captured by underwater photographer Fiona Ayerst during a data collection exercise into the world’s biggest fish.
Sam, 35, swam alongside and in front if this huge species, resulting in the startling photo.
Sam, who at 5ft 5ins tall and weighing eight stones pales into insignifance against the shark, said: “It is quite amazing to see how small I looked compared to the whale shark.
“I could probably have fitted sideways into its mouth.
“I was swimming both alongside it and in front of it and it was only when I saw the photo afterwards that you realise how close I was to its huge mouth.
“Although it doesn’t look like it, I knew there was no danger to me at all because whale sharks are harmless.”
Sam has spent the last 12 years swimming with whale sharks, collecting important data about their population and habitat.
The picture was taken in 30ft of water in Sodwana Bay near Durban, South Africa.
Fiona, 43, said: “Looking onto the eyes and cavernous mouth of a friendly whale shark is something I wish that every human being could experience.
“The idea when taking pictures of them is to show the sheer size and majesty of the shark and how gentle they are, even though they are massive and have the capability to swallow a man whole.
“When I saw the picture it was not that unusual for me because I see that sort of thing quite often but I can appreciate how incredible it looks to other people.”
Whale shark, Rhincodon typus in Laton, is the largest living fish species. They can up to 40ft long, weigh up to 15 tons and live for 70 years.