Snorkeling with Triton Bay’s Whale Sharks
Large whale shark swimming below snorkeler

Whale sharks are easily one of the most recognizable fish in the ocean. Not only are they the largest species of shark in the ocean measuring up to sixty feet in length, but they are covered in giant white polka dots and only eat plankton and tiny fish! What more could you ask for, than a giant shark you can swim with that is completely adorable with its spots and is also completely harmless.

Now, the only thing is where to find them. Whale sharks inhabit just about every tropical and temperate ocean on the planet, but they tend to live quite nomadic lives and can travel large distances making them somewhat difficult to find. They can, of course, turn up at any point during a snorkel, but a lot of times this is a quick pass-by lasting just a few seconds to a couple of minutes at most. However, there are a handful of places where whale sharks do congregate, and we as snorkelers have as close to a guarantee as you can get in the natural world for being able to snorkel with them for an extended period of time. As I said there are a few of these places where whale sharks hang out in larger groups, but one place that offers solid chances of snorkeling with several whale sharks at a time but also fantastic reefs is in Triton Bay, just south of Raja Ampat.

Whale sharks are dispersed all over Indonesia, but the reason they congregate here in this large bay is because, for years and years, local fishermen have been fishing in a way that has ultimately evolved into a symbiotic relationship between the fishermen and the large sharks. Silversides are a type of very small fish, very much like an anchovy, and are fished throughout the island nation using a bagan, or a large bamboo platform with giant nets that hang beneath the strange floating structure. At night, the fishermen lower the nets beneath the platform and then use a set of very bright lights to lure in large shoals of these tiny fish into the nets. All night these fishermen lower and raise their nets and throughout this process, the whale sharks start to collect around the bagans as the concentration of fish is no doubt a delicious smell for them.

The sharks will even suck on the nets in an attempt to force a few of these delicious little fish through the fine mesh. Rather than see the large sharks as a nuisance, the local fishermen appreciate the whale sharks’ presence as they believe the large animals are a good omen for their catch. Along with that, now that this relationship has been discovered by snorkelers and divers, this unique relationship also provides the fishermen and the communities with an additional source of income as liveaboards and resorts now pay the fishermen a fee to snorkel and dive with the whale sharks around their bagans. Not only that but because sharks are much easier to find and interact with marine biologists are able to study the animals in more detail and with much less effort.

For us snorkelers, this is an excellent and very unique opportunity to get in the water and swim with one or more of these whale sharks at a time as they suck up the tiny fish that have managed to escape the net. As I said earlier, whale shark encounters  are normally quite fleeting, so to be able to locate them, but also float next to one or more for extended periods of time is a very unique experience. Not only that but being able to witness this relationship between the local fishermen and the sharks, where both are benefitting is the icing on the cake.

About Author

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Alex Lindbloom
Alex is a Snorkel Venture and Dive Safari Asia guide as well as the video and photo pros for both companies. Alex is also a field editor for a popular underwater photography magazine. Prior to joining Snorkel Venture in 2018 Alex lived and worked all over the world working as an underwater cameraman, with five of those years living/working on a yacht in Indonesia. Alex's images and videos have garnered many international awards such as Underwater Photographer of the Year and can be seen on NatGeo, Discovery Channel, the UN Building, and various magazines.