You want to snorkel and dive with whale sharks? Indonesia is the perfect place. Generally, it is possible to encounter these gentle giants in many places throughout the Indonesian islands. There have been reported sightings around Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Komodo, Alor, Sumbawa and Raja Ampat. Indeed, in some special pockets of the archipelago, local fishermen and whale sharks have created an exceptional relationship, a unique coexistence, resulting in a few hotspots where an encounter with these giant fish while snorkeling is almost guaranteed.
Fishermen consider whale sharks to be an omen of good fortune so, in turn, they share their catch of small sardines with the large animals. Even though their diet is mostly made up of plankton, the small baitfish are also one of the whale sharks’ favorites and therefore often come in large numbers to the fishing platforms – the “bagans”.
Triton bay is still a bit of a secret among divers, and recently the Marine National Park has become increasingly known as a pristine diving destination with a very high chance to snorkel and dive with the whale sharks. The area boasts the most incredible and untouched underwater sites, with a backdrop of towering formations of limestone and lush tropical jungle. The dive sites of Triton Bay also have the highest recorded fish biomass in all of Indonesia – 1711 species of reef fish (and counting), 600+ species of corals, and 17 species of whales and dolphins – including the world’s largest fish – the whale shark. As if all of this wasn’t enough to make you grab your mask and snorkel and catch the first flight to Indonesia, Triton Bay has even more wonders yet to be shared above the surface.
Triton Bay is reachable by Kaimana Airport and the best season is from October to April. A cruise to Triton Bay can be organized as a private yacht charter via the incredible Misool area.
On the northern coast of West Papua, Cenderawasih Bay has long been known as a hotspot for diving and snorkeling with whale sharks. However, because of its remote location, it remains off the beaten track of tourism. With its nearly 500 kilometers of coastline, tropical rainforest, mangrove, and countless species of sea creatures, Cendrawasih Bay is a bucket list destination for those looking to explore some of the remotest regions on earth.
With 1.5 million hectares of protected marine reserve ensuring pristine conditions and a massive population of vibrant flora, fauna, and healthy coral cover, Cenderawasih Bay is the largest national park in Southeast Asia. In addition to whale sharks – Cenderawasih Bay offers several wreck diving sites and is perfect for bird watching. It has about 3 dozen species of flying birds. The bagans in Cenderawasih Bay regularly change location and are located throughout numerous areas. The area of Kwatisore usually features many bagans and even received the nickname “whale shark village”. Cenderawasih Bay is reachable from several airports (in Nabire/Biak and Manokwari). Manokwari is the most popular option due to the direct flights from Jakarta.
The best season to snorkel and dive with whale sharks in Cendrawasih Bay, Indonesia is typically from November to April. During this time, the water is generally calmer and the visibility is good, making it easier to spot these magnificent creatures.
Experience the Gentle Giants
Sumbawa is a lesser-known and recently discovered hotspot for snorkeling and diving with whale sharks. Just like the systems found in Triton Bay and Cendrawashi, the bagan fishermen also reward whale sharks with a share of the bait fish of the fisherman’s nightly catch. From our experience, the encounter rate in Sumbawa is lower compared to the areas in West Papua. However, the area is much easier to reach in comparison and still offers a high chance to snorkel with whale sharks.
A whale shark cruise to Sumbawa can be combined with a yacht charter in Komodo, adding plenty of additional highlights to this route. Whale shark sightings in Sumbawa, Indonesia are possible throughout the year, but the best time to see them is generally from June to September when the sea is calm and the visibility is high.
Local Fisherman community photo @dianahimmelspach
Generally speaking, the feeding of wild animals is a highly controversial subject – many argue it changes the feeding behavior as well as migration patterns of marine animals, including whale sharks. While there is certainly validity to these points, on the other hand, the regular whale shark sightings in these remote Indonesian islands is a great contribution to the protection of these animals and the marine environment in general. The respect that the local fishermen have for these giant creatures goes back well before tourism, and it will continue well after.
The waters of Kaimana and Triton Bay were granted recognition and the status of a Marine Protected Area in 2008 – the whale shark sightings certainly contributed towards this decision. The government of Indonesia continues to make strides toward protecting its wildlife and the island communities around it. Another way that visitors to these bagans have impacted Indonesia positively is by spreading awareness that Indonesia is bigger than places like Bali. It relieves the touristic pressure from these highly impacted communities, as well as generating alternative employment in remoter regions of the Indonesian archipelago.
No matter if encountering a whale shark at a man-made bagan or encountering anywhere in the wild, keep in mind whale sharks are wild animals and should be treated with respect. Therefore, please follow these guidelines for snorkeling with whale sharks in Indonesia.
Platforms built by the Fishing Community