Triton Bay, West Papua
There are few animals more graceful and humbling to swim beside than whale sharks. Growing up to 40ft, these giants of the ocean roam the tropical open waters of the world and are rarely found in seas cooler than 72 degrees Fahrenheit…making them even more tempting to swim beside!
With a mouth that can reach nearly 5ft wide, and contain 300-350 rows of teeth, it can come as a surprise that these giant sharks are filter feeders, eating exclusively small nektonic life (krill, copepods, plankton, eggs and larvae, as well as small fish and squid). Given their large size, it is little surprise that juveniles can eat an estimated 46lbs per day! It is for this reason that sub-adult male whale sharks frequent certain areas along the coast of West Papua, including Triton Bay.
*Cenderawasih Bay is another Papuan whale shark hotspot (and in our opinion the best spot in the world to see them). A complete guide to swimming with the sharks of that bay can be found here.
The area known as Triton Bay, outside the town of Kaimana, is a region rich in nutrient upwelling. This allows the area to support a wide array of marine life as well as numerous local fisheries.
Small offshore fishing platforms, known locally as ‘bagans’, can be found anchored in deeper water throughout the bay. Fishermen catch baitfish and squid in nets dropped from the bagans at night, and dry the catch on drying racks onboard the bagans during the day. Scraps from the catch attract the whale sharks to the area, making it an ideal place to see them in the water up close.
A few different ways exist to get out to the bagans and see the sharks. One option is to go with a dive operation such as Triton Bay Divers (only game in town but they have a pretty good reputation). Unfortunately this option can be quite expensive and you are on their time table (and honestly not much is gained from scuba diving with these animals vs freediving as they are feeding at the surface most of the time when at the bagans). Our choice was to visit these animals by hiring a local fisherman to take us out (which always seems to be the plan we go with to get anywhere). We recommend asking around the harbor in Kaimana to find a fishermen who will take you out to the bagans, which should cost the price of the fuel plus a small additional fee. Bring some snacks to share and you will likely have a nice long time to enjoy these amazing sharks.
The best time of each month to get see whale sharks around the bagans is the new moon. The dry season, when you will find the best visibility, in Triton bay is typically September to early June.
Research is being done to track the movements of these amazing animals in eastern Indonesia via satellite tag attached to their dorsal fins. More information on the work being done can be found at conservation.org
If you snap a great photo of a whale shark in Triton Bay (or anywhere else) consider sending it in to Wildbook for Whale Sharks and help researchers track these fascinating animals!
More images of whale sharks from Papua can be found in our Whale Sharks Gallery