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Whaleshark Trip Report


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#1 MikeVeitch

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 02:19 AM

As an add on to the photos and video I uploaded the other day here is a brief trip report on the adventure we had out there.

It's actually from my blog so it may seem a little confusing to some if you don't know me already :(

Cendrawasih Whalesharks

And this is copy and paste for those who don't want to click and see photos :) but you should click anyway haha

Everyone has heard the old story about the “hot new spot” for diving and that you have to get there before everyone else to truly see how amazing it is. Well.. seems I am always the one who comes too late. I got to Palau after the 98 bleaching, I still haven’t been to Tiger Beach and everyone has photos of the tigers now..etc etc etc… Well, last week I finally made it to just such a new place in Cendrawasih Bay in Papua province of Indonesia with the Dive Damai liveaboard.. and hot damn! It really did live up to its name as the hottest new place to experience. This is not just some superlative either, as the photos may show. Seriously, how do I explain the experience of being immersed in the water for over 2 hours with non stop interaction with 4 whalesharks? I don’t think I really have the writing skills to describe it properly, it is just something that you need to see and do for yourself before they disappear (which I really hope they don’t!)

In Indonesia there is type of fishing platform called a Bagan that is made from Bamboo and has a variety of nets hanging from it that capture baitfish during the night by attracting them with lights. In the Nabire region of Cendrawasih Bay, the local population of whalesharks has discovered that these fishing platforms are a great way to get free grub! Luckily, the fishermen, whom are all from Sulawesi, have decided that the whalesharks are good luck as opposed to being pests that raid their catch and suck on their nets. The lure of quick money from selling the shark fin is hopefully something that the fishermen will not fall prey to in the future. The whalesharks come to the Bagans late night/early morning and will hang around all day if the fishermen feed them. Therefore, in order to dive with them we needed to send out a boat to find one of the bagans that had some whalesharks and let them know that we wanted to dive. The fishermen kindly obliged and continued to feed the whalesharks small fish and “fish mince” so that they did not go away. When we arrived at the bagan we could see 3 whalesharks cruising about under the surface so of course everyone got in and went right to it! We weren’t exactly sure how the sharks would react so we were all a little cautious at first to see what would happen. However, the sharks didn’t mind our presence at all, they were just interested in the nets, the food, and the water that the fishermen would pour into the sea from a bucket (have to look at the photos to understand). Some of the whalesharks were so curious that they would just swim straight into a diver without a care in the world and then continue to push that diver along! We debated whether that was aggressive behaviour or just curiousity but we couldn’t really tell. One thing that was interesting is that they knew exactly where the divers were at all times, as they would swim over you or past you they would lift up their fins to avoid running into the diver, except that one curious one of course. The most interesting behaviour of the sharks was when they would do a tail stand and hang in the water column with mouth pushing through the surface while the fishermen poured a bucket of water and some fish into their mouths. Pretty incredible to see 2 or 3 of them crowding into the area to get the treats.

One thing that we weren’t expecting was the presence of a sailfish below! As the fish that the fishermen threw into the water slowly sank into the depths a sailfish came in on several occasions to gobble them up and then on the second day we not only had a sailfish but a blue marlin as well!

After 2 hours of swimming with the sharks and emptying our tanks we got back into the skiffs and headed back to the big boat for lunch. Much to my surprise, no one wanted to head back to the whalesharks in the afternoon, everyone was too exhausted and wanted a nice easy reef dive haha. So for the afternoon we did a small bommie not too far from the boat, I was surprised with the reef life as I saw a napoleon wrasse and a grey reef shark of all things. There was certainly some bleaching damage to this reef but we weren’t expecting too much so it was not a bad dive, the most lobsters I have ever seen that is for sure. When we got back to the big boat there was a whale shark cruising under the boat itself! So a couple of us were able to get in and get a short bit of video of it, pretty cool.

The following day we set off at 730 back to the same fishing platform for another encounter, we even brought some of the boys from the boat such as the cooks and restaurant crew who wanted to snorkel with the sharks. All I can is that this second day was even better than the first! We had 4 sharks and they were there the whole time, our encounters with them were off the charts and once again, 2 hours of in water activity ended with empty tanks.

After heading back to the big boat for lunch everyone was chomping at the bit to head back to the whalesharks again, no one was too tired this time as the shark action was so good in the morning. Even after a 3 hour break we were greeted by 2 sharks and within 15 mins of us getting into the water we had 4 of them swimming amongst us once again. A few of us got out of the water after only about 90 mins (instead of 120!) and got up on the fishing platform to watch the fishermen feed the whalesharks by hand. This was a pretty cool experience as the whalesharks would stall on the surface with their mouth open and it was simple just to throw a couple of small baitfish into their mouth! Wow! You could tell the fishermen had a relationship with the sharks as they would just pour water into the ocean from a bucket and the sharks would come right to the spot. They would even reach down and the whalesharks allowed themselves to be stroked and petted like an oversized dog.

Overall, although we didn’t get a chance to explore much of the rest of Cendrawasih Bay what we did find on the reefs was encouraging. The information and GPS points we have from CI and Burt Jones and Marine Shimlock means we have quite a few good reefs to check out on the next trip and I am excited to go back next year and dive these places. I am even more excited to dive with the whalesharks again! I can’t wait, I took over 1000 photos and about 20 minutes worth of video but I still want more! Head over to my Latest Photos page to see more examples of the photos.

Join us for our Lembeh and Bunaken Photo Workshop 12-19 May 2014
Blog and Photo Archive/Portfolio Site www.mikeveitchblog.com
Learn underwater photography in Indonesia or Join me on a trip www.underwatertribe.com


#2 diver dave1

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 02:09 PM

WOW!
Seems you need someone to carry your gear and be your dive buddy next time you go.
Pick me, coach, Pick me!

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#3 sasdasdaf

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Posted 14 April 2011 - 06:32 PM

Mike, incredible story and pics! Sounds like a heck of an experience.

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#4 PIG004

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 09:06 PM

Great stuff.

#5 wahlaoeh

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Posted 18 April 2011 - 10:11 PM

AWESOME, Mike!!! Super jealous for now .. I'll be heading there this Dec ... wish me luck!!!

#6 wudai

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Posted 21 April 2011 - 08:04 AM

Cool I am so excited, we're leaving for Nabire this Saturday!

#7 DrMark

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Posted 26 April 2011 - 03:18 PM

Hi All,

I was on that trip with Mike, and I can report that the whale shark encounter was even better than he describes :)

Mike is a really great guy, and they treated us like kings on the Damai. For those of you who have never seen the Damai, the rooms are ridiculously large :D (way larger than my hotel room in Tokyo)

--Mark

#8 scorpio_fish

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 09:14 AM

I find it rude to add spam to someone else's trip report.
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#9 Drew

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 10:23 AM

So do I.... it's gone! :(

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