An awesome day on Thursday, beginning around 5 a.m. when one of our boats sent a group over to a nearby bagan (fishing boat) to start some whale sharking. There turned out to be nine or 10 whale sharks there (all adolescent males), so it kept them occupied most of early morning.
On my boat we waited for the head of the Cenderawasih Bay National Park to arrive before heading over to join the crowd and finish the tagging efforts. By 9:15 we had attached the three remaining tags, including one to a relatively large (7-meter, or 23-foot) male. I attached the other two tags to smaller males around 5 meters (16.4 feet) long. Everything went exceptionally well, so we said goodbye to our new friends and headed northwest to rendezvous with the other boat for a few dives in late afternoon.
Friday was a transit day with a few dives added in, followed by a really peaceful sunset bonfire on the beach with cocktails and snacks with passengers from both expedition boats. After a brief rest on board, everyone got together for a traditional Indonesian buffet meal, some great conversation and a couple of lively debates, as well as some wonderful wine.
Meanwhile, the five whale sharks should already be out actively collecting data on their diving and ranging behaviors. The sharks now have names; the small female is Rachel, the large male is Javas and the other males are Ren, Stimpy and Cumulus. Everyone is eager to see those data in around six month’s time, when the tags are scheduled to release from the sharks and make contact with the Argos satellites.
Dr. Brent S. Stewart is a senior research scientist at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.