What you say? How could something the size of a bus, with an average size of around 10m (30′) and max size of 20m (60′), have an identity crisis? One problem is deep down, they know they are not a whale. They have gills and don’t breath air which means they don’t have anything as showy as a spout. Plus, their tail is sideways compared to whale so no fancy tail slaps on the water to get attention.
Whale sharks are not your average sharks. For one thing, they are huge. While there are many decently sized shark species in the ocean, only the whale sharks can reach a size that is equivalent to a small bus. For another thing, they are filter feeders, which means they open their massive maws to hoover up any plankton and baby fish that are in their path.
Whale sharks are the largest living fish species, and swimming alongside these magnificent creatures is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. Although they resemble the whales from which their common name is derived, they are not whales but sharks. They belong to the group called Chondryichtyes, which includes sharks, rays, and skates.
It was June 2019, and this would be our second time visiting the area where the whale sharks congregate on our Bali to Komodo Dances, Dragons & Magical Lakes cruises. Previously in May, our tour leader Anastasia successfully spotted a whale shark near the floating fishing platform, which the locals call a ‘bagan’, and we were making our way towards it through the night using the GPS point that a local guide had given me.
Editor’s note: In March, a team of scientists from Conservation International Indonesia tagged a female whale shark — the first ever tagged in West Papua.
The shark, named “Susi” after Indonesia’s Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF), Susi Pudjiastuti, will give scientists new insight into how the diving and movement behaviours of female whale sharks differ from those of male whale sharks.
In this report, Erfa Canisthya, a project officer at Conservation International Indonesia, describes how the scientists tagged the female whale shark and what information they hope to learn.