[OcelotNews] Ocelotians swimming with Whale Sharks!

KD7NDG at Winlink.org KD7NDG at Winlink.org
Mon Feb 23 03:12:00 PST 2015

Dear Friends & Family,    23 Feb 2015, N tip of Namatote Island, Eastern Indo

There are 4 "bagans" out in the bay just north of us.  They're 80' (25m) trimarans with 2 stubby masts that are festooned with ropes to hold up the many bits of wood that go out to the bamboo floats 20' (6m) on each side of the main hull.  With a small house on deck for the crew & a small generator, these craft anchor & work at night, lowering nets under each wing-deck & attracting fish with lights on deck.  At intervals throughout the night, the nets are raised, the fish removed, & the nets lowered again.

Obviously, some fish escape, & the whale sharks have worked this out.  So have we!

So at 5:30am, with the sky to the east just beginning to lighten, we climbed into our wet-suits, picked up the folks on Per Ardua, & dinghied to the bagan we'd talked to last night.  But he said he hadn't seen any whale sharks that night, & he was busy selling his fish to the small boats that take it 10 miles (16km) to the town of Kaimana to sell.  The next bagan wasn't so busy, & he threw a few handfulls of fish into the water, but no ikan besar (literally, "fish big") showed up.  Our friends gave him a pack of cigarettes for his trouble (a secondary currency here).  The story was similar at #3, & we thought it would be the same at #4, as there was nobody on deck when we arrived.

But a man soon showed up & started throwing small fish into the water without us even asking him to.  And just aft of the bagan we saw a huge fin cut the surface.  He's HERE!  We all put on our gear & jumped in.

He was a mid-sized whale shark, about 20-25' (6-8m) long, with a huge 6' (2m) tail & white spots along his back & sides.  His head was big & flattened, perhaps 3' across, with tiny eyes in turrets that are always moving on the sides.  Most sharks can't actually pump water through their gills, but this guy could suck in vast quantities of water through his wide horizontal mouth.  We tried to avoid touching him, but sometimes it was impossible, & his skin had a sandpaper consistency, ~120 grit.  

"Tiny" didn't seem to mind us being in the water with him.  Usually he swam effortlessly around us, but visibility in the water was only about 30' (10m) & Jon was looking for him to swim out of the gloom when he was suddenly thumped in the back by the dorsal fin & then the tail.  Another time Jon made the mistake of getting between Tiny & his fish, & had to swim madly out of the way of his gaping mouth. Sometimes he would appear directly beneath us, and only by fast back paddling could we avoid sitting on his back.

The guys in the bagan were constantly throwing fish in, & Tiny would swim right to the back of the bagan.  With his tail down & his broad nose out of the water he'd start hoovering in the tiny fish & pumping the water out his gills.  After a minute or so he'd back off & circle around again for another pass.

In all, we swam with Tiny for about an hour.  We could get as close as we liked, as he was only interested in the fish, not us.  Looking back, it seems crazy that we should swim so close to the world's largest shark.  Even though he was only a teenager, he was pretty gynormous.  Truly an experience we'll remember for a long time, & an awesome welcome to Triton Bay, Papua!

Fair Winds & Calm Seas  --  Jon & Sue    s/v Ocelot
http://HackingFamily.com    http://svOcelot.com
Skype: sv-ocelot   US Worldwide Phone: +1-206-923-9714

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