Swimming with whale sharks in Papua is undeniably a bucket list wildlife encounter. In the waters of Kwatisore, Nabire Regency, Papua Province, there is a bay called Cenderawasih Bay National Park. In this 80 km national park, one can find whale sharks.
Here are 9 overwhelming facts about whale shark in Papua that will amaze you:
1. The Biggest Fish in the World
The whale shark (Rhinocodon typus) is the largest fish species in the world. Local fishermen call this shark the gurano bintang. Adult whale sharks have a length of up to 14 meters and weigh 80 tons. This size is equivalent to a bus with a capacity of 60 passengers. Whale sharks that appear on the surface are usually 3-7 meters in size.
2. They Have Very Slow Breeding Period
Whale sharks reach maturity when they are around 30 years old. Their reproductive period is very slow as it takes a long time from one pregnancy to the next. Whale sharks also have a long life. They can live up to 60 to 100 years. Their large size and long life are both advantages and disadvantages because they are very vulnerable to various disorders.
3. Sea Ghost is Their Another Name
These behemoths are present all year round in the Akudiomi customary sea area in Cendrawasih Bay National Park, Nabire, Papua Province. Papuan whale sharks are called hinio tanibre (sea ghost) by the locals. In the past, the length and dark color with white spots of whale sharks became a scourge for fishermen. They believe this giant animal is a sea ghost that will bring disaster if they cross paths on the high seas.
4. Friendly with Humans
Whale sharks are tame although they are the world’s largest fish. To approach the whale sharks, there can only be a maximum of 7 people in one boat. Tourists who snorkel can swim near this megafauna fish. However, tourists must maintain a distance of 2 meters from the fish’s body and 3 meters from the fish’s tail. The maximum duration of interaction with whale sharks is 60 minutes without touching or actively chasing them. Underwater cameras are allowed without activating the flash.
5. They Like Anchovies So Much!
While sharks generally have many sharp teeth, Papua’s whale sharks do not have teeth. They eat anchovies ─ a type of fish from the anchovy family with a size of only about 12 cm. Whale sharks eat anchovies by gulping them down with mouth wide open in large quantities, along with sea water. Whale sharks also eat plankton.
6. Male Whale Sharks Are More Often Seen to The Surface
Adult male whale sharks measure 7.05 – 12.26 meters, while females are over 12 meters. Male whale sharks surface more often than females. This is still a mystery to whale shark researchers. The whereabouts of the female shark when the males came to the surface are not known for certain.
7. They Have a Favorite Place to Appear
Whale sharks are spread in tropical and subtropical waters. Indonesia is one of their favorite waters. The favorite locations in Indonesia for whale sharks to appear are East Kalimantan, Probolinggo, Gorontalo, Cendrawasih Bay Papua, Labuan Jambu, Sumbawa, and NTB. The reason why whale sharks like to appear in Gorontalo and Probolinggo is because Gorontalo is close to a shrimp packing factory, while Probolinggo has fertile waters.
8. Potential as a World Heritage Site
Cenderawasih Bay National Park is a protected area where whale sharks can thrive. It also contains many marine species, including whale sharks, which are endangered and are now protected by Indonesian law. Therefore, this endangered whale shark is potential to become a World Heritage Site.
9. A Shark Tourist Attraction
Whale shark tourism in Kwatisore, Papua Province, is also being developed as ecotourism or sustainable nature tourism. Whale shark tour packages in Kwatisore waters are carried out by tour operators who have obtained permission from the Cenderawasih Bay National Park Center, Papua. Besides being friends with fishermen and tourists, sharks are also often the subject of research.
Are you ready to swim with the biggest fish in the world? Share what you think in the comments section below.