If asked to describe what the largest fish on the planet looks like, one of the first things you’d probably say is that it’s covered in white spots. That’s true! But what a lot of people don’t seem to see as clearly are how the spots transition rather beautifully into stripes, which then become alternating vertical bands of spots and stripes all the way down to the caudal fin (take a look at this one!). It’s absolutely gorgeous colouration, and one of my favourite things about whale sharks physically. It’s obvious why Project Domino is so named. In Madagascar the whale shark is known as marokintana, which means “many stars”. In the Kiswahili language, it’s papa shillingi – “shark covered in shillings”. From the East African Whale Shark Trust: “There is a local legend that God was so pleased when he created this beautiful fish, that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven onto its back. So it goes that whale sharks have their magical markings and swim near the surface, catching the sun on their backs, as a way of saying thank you to their maker.” I’m kind of a sucker for cool creation legends.
The markings responsible for these fantastic names are kind of hellish to paint, though. Every single whale shark has unique markings (which allow researchers to identify individuals), so I know I have a certain amount of freedom when it comes to the placement of these spots and (eventual) stripes, but I want to ensure that what I’m painting is still within the boundaries of typical whale shark patterns. I spend a lot of time observing our whale sharks, and one of our females has these stunning diagonal lines just above her pectoral fins. I’m thinking she just might be the inspiration for this one.