Mark Erdmann is currently participating in an expedition tagging whale sharks in Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay. Read previous posts from this expedition.
Wow — what a day! From quite early this morning our whole group has been in the water constantly, enjoying one of the most singularly fantastic big animal encounters we’ve ever experienced. We divided into two teams, each headed to a different bagan lift-net catamaran fishing boat. My group had a total of three whale sharks aggregated under the ship, each alternately coming to the surface to enjoy a snack of ikan puri, the local silverside baitfish that the bagan ships are catching each evening. The bagan fishermen happily oblige, tossing a handful of baitfish to the sharks as they approach (the fishers reckon the whale sharks bring good luck). The other group of divers had seven whale sharks swimming under their boat — the underwater version of a three-ring circus!
Both of our groups enjoyed dramatic close-up encounters with the whale sharks for a number of hours — mostly snorkeling with them, and occasionally donning scuba tanks and having a dive as well. After about an hour of snorkeling, our whale shark expert Dr. Stewart used a low-powered pneumatic speargun to insert pop-up satellite tags into two of the sharks at our bagan — one male and one female. Happily, the sharks didn’t seem at all perturbed by the tagging, and stayed with us for another few hours before disappearing in the hot midday sun.
Tomorrow morning the head of the Cenderawasih National Park will arrive, and we’ll attach the remaining three tags to other whale sharks. After a thrilling day of sharing time with these gentle goliaths, everyone is going to sleep well tonight I’m sure — but we’ll all be up early tomorrow morning for another dose of adrenaline!
Dr. Mark Erdmann is senior advisor to CI-Indonesia’s marine program.