They may not have been invited to lunch, but no one thought of arguing with the giant creatures stealing fish out of the trawler nets.

These gentle whale sharks were captured on camera for the first time helping themselves to a meal.

The incredible shots show the 20-tonne mammals placing their mouths against the nets and sucking anchovies through the holes as boats fished in West Papua, Indonesia.

Feeding time: A giant whale shark is caught having a feast of anchovies from the nets of fishermen in Indonesia

Eat up: Two whale sharks who normally dine on a diet of plankton, just can't resist the catch of the day

Underwater photographer Steve Jones spent five days documenting the special relationship that has developed between the sharks and the local fishermen who treat them as friends.

Steve, 40, from Wallingford, Oxon, said: 'The whale sharks are attracted to the local fishing platforms by the nets full of anchovies that hang under them.

'Many of the nets are in a poor state of repair and the sharks do not miss the opportunity for a free lunch.

'They use their cavernous mouths to vacuum the unfortunate fish through the holes in the nets.

Dining out: A fisherman watches as a whale shark opens its cavernous mouth and enjoys his lunch

Caught on camera: A giant whale shark which has a mouth 1.5 metres wide containing between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth

Yet rather than persecute these sharks for competing with them, the Papuan fishermen embrace their company during their long, lonely stints at sea.

'I witnessed the men swimming with the sharks on a daily basis and saw the smiles on their faces as they hand fed them left over fish at the end of the day.

'On one occasion a fisherman went underwater at night to cut a whale shark free after it had become caught up in the net.

"He subsequently lost his entire catch, yet the following morning he seemed only proud to have helped an animal that they believe brings luck.

'He cared little for the considerable risk he had taken, the animals are so big an accidental clip from a tail is like being hit by a small car.'

The father-of-one added: "The behaviour shown by the whale sharks in the bay is incredibly unusual.

'These sharks are normally solitary, yet we witnessed them in groups of up to nine in one go, carefully avoiding any unwelcome collisions with either each other or us.

'Also, for the first time these species have been proven to be opportunistic feeders - they demonstrate there is no reason to miss the chance of an easy meal!"


The whale shark (Rhincodon typus), is the largest living fish on the planet measuring as long as 41.50ft and a weighing more than 21.5 tonnes (47,000 lb).

This distinctively-marked fish is found in tropical and warm oceans, lives in the open sea with a lifespan of about 70 years

Its cavernous mouth is 1.5 metres wide and contains between 300 and 350 rows of tiny teeth

The species, which is about 60 million years old, feeds mainly, though not exclusively, on plankton and microscopic plants and animals.