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Published: November 9th 2011
This day was pretty much the most amazing experience I've had underwater to date. Ok, it was DEFINITELY the most amazing thing I've ever seen in the water......and I've seen a little bit.
Cenderawasih Bay holds the distinction of being the one of the only places in the world where you are nearly guaranteed to see a whale shark in the water. SCHOOLING whale sharks at that! Whale sharks are one of the most elusive animals in the ocean, and are kind of like the 'holy grail' of diving.
When I lived on Maui, was lucky enough to see one out at Molokini. I remember that all the guys I worked with were mad at me because I had been in the water with a 35' whale shark after only working on boats for about 3 months, while some of them had been working on boats for 10+ years and never had that opportunity.
We went to the southern end of Cenderawasih Bay, near Kwantisore, to see if there really were whale sharks there. Eight of us left the boat at 6 a.m. to go see if there were any whale sharks hanging around. They are attracted to
Throwing handfuls of minnows straight into its mouth.
this area in particular because there are these groups of fisherman who fish off these big rafts/floating fishing huts, called 'Bagans', that feed the whale sharks. They feed them mainly because the whale sharks attract all sorts of other fish, but they are especially interested in the smaller fish, that attract other bigger fish that they are interested in catching, like yellowfin tuna.
The Indonesians don't really care for the whale shark--the literal translation of what they refer to the whale shark as is 'stupid fish'. They don't try to catch them, although I'm sure that someone has at some point down there--I was actually surprised that they don't try to eat them, as I've seen some of the other s*$@ they eat.
When we arrived at the bagan, we could immediately see the whale sharks coming up to the surface and being fed by the fishermen, who were dumping these nets full of hundreds and hundreds of little three inch long minnows right into the open mouths of the whale sharks. We all jumped in the water and really had the experience of a lifetime, swimming with 6 whale sharks. The smallest one was about 15' long,
One of the Bagans in the area. We could see about 5 others in the area--not sure if they all had whale sharks swimming around them, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did.
while the longest was maybe 25'-30'. That's about half the size of a full-grown adult.
I went in and free dove with them for a bit, and then put on a tank for awhile for a little scuba action, and then went back to free diving with them. They were not going anywhere, because they were going to stay as long as the food kept coming, so we were able to spend about 3 hours swimming with them. I think some of the other guys got bored with it, but I was in the water with them the entire time.
The 'stupid fish' are generally harmless, as they don't have any real teeth. They are filter feeders, sucking in their food along with a lot of water, and then shooting the water out of their gills and keeping the food.
Being alongside such a spectacular animal was magical. I hate the fact that I really just used that word to describe it, but, what can I say, it really was something special. With the six of them swimming around, and sort of taking turns at the 'feeding station', there was a lot of activity going on in
This is your view when riding a whale shark.
the water. There were times where I had dove down maybe 30', had a little swim around, and then was suddenly completely surrounded by whale sharks, on top of me, below me, in front of me, behind me, everywhere. They had no problem swimming right towards you if you were inbetween them and the feeding area.
I even had a chance to feed the whale sharks, tossing these little fish, from the bagan, right into their gaping 3'-4' wide mouths.
Another day at the office....
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