Tagging Whale Sharks in Indonesia: Part 3

Mark Erdmann is currently participating in an expedition tagging whale sharks in Indonesia’s Cenderawasih Bay. Read previous posts from this expedition.

A member of the expedition team has a close encounter with a whale shark. (© CI/Photo by Mark Erdmann)

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!

Whale sharks congregate near the surface awaiting a baitfish snack from fishermen, who consider them to be good luck. (© CI/Photo by Mark Erdmann)

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.

A satellite tag embedded just behind the dorsal fin of a shark. (© CI/Photo by Mark Erdmann)

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!

Mark Erdmann

Dr. Mark Erdmann is senior advisor to CI-Indonesia’s marine program.


  1. Quintin G. Gomez III says

    Greetings Mark Erdmann,

    I’m Quint Gomez III, of the Whale Shark Watchers Organization in Oslob, Cebu, Philippines.

    A newly formed non-profit organization that consist of: fishermen, marine biologists, and concerned divers to help assist our organization in enforcing local laws to help save this extremely rare attraction of our version of Hand Fed Whale Sharks in the Philippines. Our mission is to establish a controlled and alternate source of income to the fishermen that care for our 8 resident whale sharks who are visible everyday for the past 6 months and to provide awareness to the divers and tourist who come to see them. We have established several meetings with the local government, as we know this is difficult to establish, however, thankfully I am able to appeal to them and they will listen to what to have to say.

    I would like to further discuss in detail with you through phone or Skype as soon as possible, and would like to send you a copy of our rules and regulations, in hopes to share our findings and experiences. Looking forward to meeting you.

    Whale Sharks vary from 6ft – 35ft in length. Mostly Female.

    Krill is abundant here, and these whale sharks have been around since 1987, but just 6 months ago has this become public and now we have people from all over the world wanting to view them. As much as 60 people in one day, and we have found this to be uncontrolled, so we did what had to and enforced such rules to ensure the safety of the species as well as help the fishermen through their means of living.


    Quint Gomez III

    Whale Shark Watchers Organization

  2. Pingback: Taman Nasional Teluk Cendrawasih: Rumah Bagi Ikan Hiu Paus | Mobgenic

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