3 Best Sites to Snorkel and Dive with Whale Sharks in Indonesia

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Indonesia is a hotspot for Diving and Snorkeling with Whale sharks. Generally, its possible
to encounter these gentle giants many places throughout the Indonesian islands – there have
been reported sighting around Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Komodo, Alor and Raja Ampat.
However, in some special pockets of the archipelago, local fisherman and the Whale sharks
have created a very special relationship, a unique coexistence, resulting in a few hotspots
where an encounter with these giant fish while snorkeling is almost guaranteed.
Fishermen consider the 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 u p
of plankton, the small baitfish are also one of the whale sharks favorites and therefor often
come in large numbers to the fishing platforms – the “Bangans”.

Photo: Nick Law

Whale sharks of Kaimana – Triton Bay

Triton bay is still a bit of a secret amongst divers and but recently the Marine National Park has become increasingly known as pristine diving destination with a very high chance to snorkel with the famed 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 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 yet even more wonders to share above the surface.

West Papua’s lush jungles, vibrant mangroves and lagoons, endemic and exotic birds of paradise, virgin white-sand beaches surrounded by giant karst cliffs – the landscape and biodiversity of Triton Bay is one of the most amazing in South East Asia. Triton Bay is reachable by Kaimana Airport and the best season is from October to April.

A Cruise in Triton Bay can also be combined with a Raja Ampat Yacht Charter via the amazing Misool area.

Photo: Diana Himmelspach

Whale sharks in Cendrawashi Bay

On the North coast of West Papua, Cenderawasih Bay has long been known as a hot spot for diving and snorkeling with Whale sharks. However, because of its remote location it still 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.

At 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 the 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 Bangans in Cenderawasih Bay regularly change location and are located throughout several areas in the large bay – The area of Kwatisore usually features several Bangans 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.

Photo: Diana Himmelspach

Whalesharks in Sumbawa

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 Bangan fishermen also reward the Whalesharks with a shared of the baitfish 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 also much easier to reach in comparison and still offers a high change to snorkel with Whale sharks.

A Whaleshark Cruise to Sumbawa can all also be combined with a yacht charter in Komodo, adding a lot of edditionn highlights to this route.

Thoughts on sustainability of Whaleshark Cruises in Indonesia

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 marine environment in general. The respect that the local fishermen have for these giant creatures goes back well before tourism and the respect will continue well after.

The waters of Kaimana and Triton Bay were granted recognition and a status of the Marine Protected Area in 2008 – the whale shark sightings certainly have been a contribution towards this decision. The government of Indonesia continues to make strides toward protecting their wildlife and the island communities around it.
Another way that visitors to these Bangans have impacted Indonesia in a positive way is by spreading awareness that Indonesia is bigger than places like Bali—relieving 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 whaleshark at a man-made Bangan 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.

Code of Conduct Snorkeling with Whale sharks in Indonesia

See Project Aware Conduct for whale sharks.

  • Under no circumstances, touch, ride, chase or harass the whale shark
  • Do not swim in front of the whale shark or block its path, allow them to swim
  • Do not use equipment that could disturb or harm the Whaleshark, such as photo the intense flash, underwater scooters.
  • Keep a minimum distance of 3m
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