There is no shortage of marine life in Raja Ampat! Below are some of the amazing creatures you can spot in these waters and information on the habitats in which you can find them (we will be continually adding to this list…). If you want more information on planning your trip, visit the Underwater Guide To Raja Ampat.
Have an amazing photo of a Raja Ampat ocean critter and we don’t already have that species on the list??? Send us an email and we’d be happy to include it with a photo credit (feel free to attach your own watermark in a bottom corner of the image or we can add one for you if you like).
The dugong is a member of the order Sirenia (think manatees), and the only entirely ‘marine’ mammal that feed exclusively on vegetation (sea grass). They can be very long lived, reaching known ages of more than 70 years! While the overall species status is vulnerable, local populations have become increasingly threatened. It is now quite rare to see a dugong in the wild.
*The animal in the above photo was a rescued calf in another area of Indonesia.
Found throughout the tropical waters of the world, spinner dolphins are the acrobats of the marine mammal world. Often seen leaping out of the water, these dolphins are known for their twisting jumps, which the exercise of can cause the dolphins normal light gray belly to turn pink. In Papua these dolphins are typically shy of boat, but if you are lucky you may have a group approach your boat to bow ride (particularly if you are in a larger less-traditional boat).
The cryptic and strange Wobbegong shark can be found in the eastern Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, and central western Pacific Ocean. An ambush predator, this shark feeds on a variety of critters that venture too close as it calms waits on the bottom. Prey species include fish, crustaceans, squid & cuttlefish. The nocturnal Wobbegong can be sometimes found resting under table corals and reef ledges during the day.
Named after it’s epaulette spots, the epaulette shark is a small shark which spends the majority of it’s time on the sea bottom. There are a few species of epaulette sharks in Indonesian waters, with a couple of new species discovered in recent years – such as the Hemiscyllium freycineti discovered in Raja Ampat. Sharks in this genus are know for their ability to ‘walk’ on land, using their pectoral fins to crawl between pools of water. If you are lucky, this can be observed during a nighttime low tide in areas with shallow and partially exposed reef. Little is known about most epaulette sharks, and it is believed that they feed largely on invertebrates and are oviparous (though that has not been scientifically confirmed).
Epaulette Shark Pup
Found In the Indian, Pacific, and Indo-Pacific, reef manta rays are believe to live for at least 40 years in the wild (though the exact life span is unknown). They are slow to reproduce, with gestation lasting approximately one year and females of reproductive age resting for 1-2 years between pregnancies. The species has a high fidelity to particular sites, something researchers discover through photo-identification of the species. Each manta ray has a unique pattern on it’s underside, making identification of an individual possible.
Found primarily in the Indo-Pacific and western Pacific, the blue-spotted stingray frequently buries itself under the sand or bottom sediment, with only it’s eyes and tail tip visible. These colorful rays are ovoviviparous and each female produces around 6-7 live young per litter – making this species vulnerable to overfishing, habitat loss, and other threats. Blue-spotted stingrays feed primarily during high tide, when they swim into shallow water to feed on invertebrates, crustaceans, and small fish.
Found throughout the eastern Indian Ocean, Indo-Pacific, and western Pacific, the banded sea krait is an amphibious species. They have the ability to move readily on land like other snakes, but have unique adaptations to life in the sea, such as glands found under their tongues which help to get rid of excess salt. These snakes are oviparous and take nearly 2 years to mature. While reproduction for the kraits takes place on land, the majority of it’s life is spent at sea, feeding on small fish and eels. Banded sea kraits have the ability to inject a powerful neurotoxin when they bite, which has induced fatal hypertension & cyanosis in people. However, these snakes are very docile around divers and have very small jaws & teeth, so while care should be taken not to harass the snakes, the likely hood of getting bit is extremely low.
The yellow-margin moray ell is a widespread species throughout the Indian, Pacific, and Indo-Pacific regions. The solitary hunter can be found in reef crevices or openly hunting for small to medium sized fish on the reef. Often seen opening and closing it’s mouth to pass water over it’s gills when not swimming, the eel is often mistakenly thought to be aggressive when simply breathing.
The bumphead parrotfish is the largest parrotfish, and named for it’s prominent forehead, which can be seen in full grown adults. Parrotfish have fused teeth which form a bird like beak, a perfect adaptation for crushing the coral on which they feed. Often divers (and particularly quieter snorkelers) can hear a crunching and grinding on the reef when parrotfish are passing by. Inedible parts of the coral are passed by the fish, and parrotfish such as bump heads produce significant amounts of sediment on a reef. Active during the day, bumpheads will wrap themselves in a fine mucus layer and ‘sleep’ hidden along the reef at night.
The common lionfish is one of many types of lionfish that can be found in Indonesian waters. Lionfish have 13 poisonous dorsal spines which they will extend and display prominently when threatened. A top level predator in most reef habitats, the lion fish feeds primarily at night but can be active on the reef throughout the day.
There are a wide variety of scorpionfish species that live in the waters of Raja Ampat. Scorpionfish have 11-17 poisonous dorsal spines which they will extend and display prominently when threatened. Most species are benthic (living on the bottom) and feed on small fish and crustaceans.
Banded shrimpgobies are typically found in sandy bottomed, sheltered lagoons & estuaries. These fish have a symbiotic relationship with alpheid shrimp, which whom they share their burrows. The gobies act as the ‘guards’ while the shrimp work to maintain the burrow which they both rely on for protection.
The thornback cowfish can be most often found solitarily swimming closed to the reef. Males are highly territorial. The cowfish have a toxic mucus on their bodies which they can release if stressed.
The false clown anemonefish can be found in the Indo-Pacific and throughout the southwest Pacific. It lives it’s life in symbiosis with an anemone, primarily: Heteractis magnifica, Stichodactyla gigantean, and Stichodactyla mertensii. Depending on the anemone for shelter, these fish are poor swimmers and susceptible to predators when out in the open. Anemonefish are protected from the stinging cells of their host due to a thin mucus layer which covers their bodies.
The bluestriped fangblenny feeds using aggressive mimicry. By mimicking the behavior of the similar looking bluestreak cleaner wrasse, the blend is able to attract other animals to what appears to be a ‘cleaning station’ on the reef. Instead of cleaning parasites and detritus off the creatures visiting the ‘cleaning station’, the fangblenny takes a bite out of it’s ‘clients’. The fangblenny has a unique adaptation that enables them to get away unnoticed after biting their victim – they have a venom which contains morphine-like opioids so the bite is nearly pain-free.
Found throughout the western Pacific, Into-Pacific, and Indian Oceans, the network pipefish may be divided into two separate species in the future. Often seen soliary or in pairs, males of this ovoviviparous species carry the eggs of the young in a brood pouch located underneath their tails. They are known to feed on small invertebrates, with a large part of their diets made up of copepods.
Able to changes it’s color and the patterns and texture of it’s skin, the day octopus is a master of disguise. A diurnal species, this octopus is most active on the reef during the dawn and dusk hours, when it’s prey buffet includes both diurnal and nocturnal species. It feeds on small fish, crabs, shrimp, and mollusks.
The intelligent broadclub cuttlefish are able to display and communication by changing their skin into a wide range of colors and textures. They are diurnal hunters who are believed to mesmerize their prey by changing their skin to display pulsating rhythmic bands. Mating occurs in shallow water during the months of January-May.
There are at least 57 species of mantis shrimp within the Bird’s Head Seascape (western tip of Papua which includes much of Raja Ampat)! There are two main groups of mantis shrimp – smashers & spearers. Smashers have a well developed ‘club’ as their second pair of thoracic appendages, which are used to smash their prey apart. Spearers have pointed appendages with barbed tips in the pace of clubs, which they use to stab their prey. Mantis shrimps have some of the most intricate eyes in the animal kingdom, with 16 types of color receptor cones!
A ravenous predator on the coral reef, the Crown-Of-Throns seastar feeds on coral. In years of ‘population boom’, these seastars can inflict significant damage on a reef. Generally nocturnal, the Crown-Of-Throns can be found cruising the reef during the mornings and evenings as well.
The nocturnal basket star stays hidden among the reef during the day, and can be found with arms outstreatched filter feeding on plankton which perched high on the corals at night.
Known to live up to 10 years in the wild, the blue seastar is found throughout the Indian, Pacific, and Indo-Pacific. An opportunistic predator, the blue seastar will feed on small invertebrates, detritus, and dead animals. It feeds by inverting it’s stomach and digesting it’s food externally.
These large feather stars (crinoids) can most readily be found in areas exposed to moderate current. Their extended arms work to catch food drifting by, making them effective filter feeders. Feather stars of many species are common throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Large color and patterning variation is possible in the delicately layered lovely headshield slug. These creatures can be found throughout the tropical western Pacific, and are unusual to spot.
These nudibranchs are commonly found throughout the western tropical Pacific and Into-Pacific. Co’s Chromodoris are often seen raising and lowering their mental skirts when moving along the reef.
More Critters To Come Soon!
For more images from Raja Ampat and the rest of the Indo-Pacific, check out our Indo-Pacific Gallery
Looking for a guide to Indonesias marine life in Chinese? Check out this great guide put together by a dive instructor & underwater photographer we meet on the road…