Whale shark, Rhincodon typus, the biggest fish in the world, is one fish that is on every diver’s wish list to see at least once in a lifetime.
They may be sharks, but ferocious hunters they are not, instead these are gentle giants. They are filter feeders and only feed on plankton, krill and small fishes. The maximum size ever recorded is 12.65 meters and weighing over 21.5 tons.
There are a few ways/places within Asia, where you can see this magnificent creature.
- Every year some migratory sharks visit Southeast Asian waters, if you are lucky, you may spot them while diving, if you are VERY lucky, they may hang about to play with your bubbles and “check you out”
- Donsol, Phillipines, where you can snorkel with the whale sharks
- Oslob, Phillipines, there are whale sharks within the area, being fed by the locals for your viewing pleasure.
- Cenderawasih Bay, Nabire, West Papua, Indonesia. In Nabire, instead of just having a glimpse of them, we get to “hang” with them, for about an hour or so per trip. Extras on this location will be healthy and untouched reefs. More details will be listed below in this trip report.
Getting there is half an adventure itself, taking a minimum of 3-4 flights from Kuala Lumpur. From Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta, then to Makassar, then a transit in Jayapura before arriving in Nabire.
Note to future travellers, try to get dive gears as light as possible to avoid paying any excess baggages, but it’s not that expensive. For Lion Air, it’s about USD5 per kg.
Ahe Island, is a small island, part of Harlem islands, about 40 mins boat ride off Nabire. Ahe Dive Resort is a quaint lil resort owned by local Papuans. This is a community project for both conservation and also to kick start the tourist industry in the area. It has a 4-5 room setup and currently can only cater to a maximum of 10 divers.
The rooms or bungalows are pretty decent and adequately clean. Every room has an attached “seating” bathroom with a “kampung” style bath also known as bucket shower. No real showers here! Every bed has its own mosquito nets and mosquito coils are also provided. Most amenities are provided, but it is best to bring your own if your luggage allowance allows.
I would recommend bringing your own sleeping bags if its rainy, as the beds may be a little damp. Electricity is also limited to a few hours a day. Mostly from 6pm till midnight, and sometimes from 6am till about 10am. I would bring multi point plugs if you are a heavy charger users 😉
Food in the resort is pretty decent, tho it is mostly Asian style dishes. They do make a killer fried chicken and fish. Their fried noodles are not bad too! I think food isn’t a complaint for this trip 😀
Let’s start with the whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay. These are the resident sharks attracted to the small fish caught by the fishermans in bagans. These bagans, are floating platforms formed by long boats equipped with platforms and large nets. These bagans are designed are to catch the small fishes at night by lowering the nets and lifting them up again in the morning. Whale sharks are considered good luck, so they are fed by the fisherman, attracting even more whale sharks. The whale sharks have learned that by sucking on the nets, an unlimited supply of food is always available.
The fishing bagans are about 2-2.5 hours away from the Ahe Resort via the long boat. There are quite a few bagans in the area, estimated about 15-20 bagans at one time. Our DM will then ask the fishermen if there are whale sharks at their bagan, which they will reply with a thumbs up or down. Upon the 1st yes, we will “dock” alongside and start looking for whale sharks on the surface.
Some fishermen do consider them a nuisance, as some get stuck in the net when it is pulled up in the morning, The fisherman may hits the shark, you may see some sharks with scars. Now, with more education, and more visitors, we hope the practice of hitting them are reducing. *A quick but sad trivia, locals also call them ikan bodoh (translated as stupid fish), as they keep coming back even after being hit.
Other than whale sharks, what is there to see in the other dive sites? Quite a bunch of interesting dive sites and of course, the very healthy coral reefs. diving at a depth of 8-10 meters shows picturesque healthy reefs. All different specials of corals are mixed and intertwined with each other in a mass orgy of a reef. In every coral head, there is always a few species of fishes all sharing the space. Just in a single anemone with a family of clownfish, if you keep an eye out, there are easily 20 over glass shrimps all over the same anemone. The species may be ordinary, but there are just plenty of them everywhere.
Their house reef is also not to be missed if you are into seahorses. Spotting the abundant pygmy seahorses are easy on this dive site. On the nearest fan to the shore at 12 meters, there are at least 3-4 seahorses in a single fan. There are a ton more stuff to see in the house reef, but we didn’t have time to do a proper search on the house reef.
Other than the reefs within Ahe and their house reef, there are 2 sites we have found quite interesting to visit. First is a shallow bay within a mangrove area, accessible only when the tide is high. The average viz is about 2-4 meters, but this is a pure muck dive with all kinds of weird critters to discover. Nudibranchs, flatworms, shrimps, etc etc
The other site is another “muck” dive, a shallow seagrass nursery with both tall and short seagrass. These areas are filled with juvenile creatures of all sorts. It was like being in a kindergarten of fishes. It’s another easy dive, with max depth of 7 – 8 meters.
As this location is still very new to divers, it is still in its “discovery” process. Many locations are still controlled by “families” or “kampungs”. So many more sites remain untouched, and unreachable. We have heard from the locals, the outer reefs, about 50km away, are sites with other big creatures abound, as proven by their fishing nets. Let’s hope the place remains that way and will be open for visitors in the near future!
Is the long travels and the lack of facilities worth the trip to see the whale sharks? As one of the divers mentioned, seeing a glimpse of a single whale shark in the waters is great enough, but to spend time and “play” with a bunch of them for a long time is something out of this world.
An interesting footnote to add to the trip. Being cut off from Internet and mobile phones were not as bad as I thought. I personally think that our group made better friendship ties and had more fun because of it! No one running off to check Facebook or emails, etc etc. Just plain old chit-chatting and diver “bonding” after dinner. We lived without Internet for more than 5 days! I wouldn’t say I didn’t miss it, but I sure did enjoy without it! Or maybe it was just the great company!
Here’s a slideshow of the pictures didn’t fit into the blog post above. Can be viewed Full Screen! Also don’t forget to drop some comments if you are interested to know about the trip.