Sharks in Raja Ampat – Walking and Swimming

Thanks in part to divers, sharks in Raja Ampat are protected. In 2013, the government of Raja Ampat created the first shark sanctuary in the Coral Triangle. Mantra Dive and Sail helps the government collect funds for the vast protected area. Shark fishing is banned in all 46,000 square kilometers of Raja Ampat’s marine territory.

Simply by spending money in the economy, divers provided strong support for this initiative. Non-government ecological organizations were able to show a live shark has more economic value than a dead one. Recognizing the value of their unique environment, the people of Indonesia have chosen to protect it here in Raja Ampat. Today we will focus on seven shark species that are thriving thanks in part to this protection.

Three species of reef shark, black tip reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, and grey reef sharks, sit atop the food chain and feast in these fecund protected waters. Lurking on the bottom, four more species, whimsical walking sharks, wiggle and waddle through the muck munching on the weird critters in the substrate.

Black tip reef shark in Raja Ampat
Black tip reef shark

Black Tip Reef Sharks

These medium sized sharks rarely exceed 1.6 meters and are easily distinguished by the dark black tips of their caudal and dorsal fins, contrasting with their lighter grey body. They do not range far, living out most of their lives on a favorite corner of reef in an area as small as half a square kilometer. Sometimes they cooperate to herd smaller fish. They are timid and will flee if approached. Perhaps they are nervous because they know they may end up a meal for a grey reef shark or another larger black tip shark. They are among the most commonly seen sharks in Raja Ampat.

White Tip Reef Sharks

The white tip reef sharks, unlike other members of the requiem family, can pump water over their gills so they can breathe without swimming. They often spend the day hiding in caves or overhangs. You can identify them by their narrow bodies with incongruously large broad heads with skin flaps on the sides of their snouts. They are curious and may investigate you, but are not know to attack humans. They hunt at night, primarily by wriggling into cracks to catch the critters hiding in the reef.

Grey Reef Sharks

Grey reef sharks in Raja Ampat congregate in groups of 5 to 20 in the shallow water of reefs near drop offs. These sharks are generally under 2 meters long, and very fast and agile swimmers. You can identify them by the white tip on the first dorsal fin and dark tips of the other fins. You may also be able to identify them by their aggressive threat display if you get to close to them. When grey sharks feel threatened they will adopt a hunched posture and make an exaggerated side to side motion with their body.  Avoid this spectacle by giving them a wide berth, and if one does start to display, back away while keeping them in view.

Walking  Sharks in Raja Ampat?

Both wobbegong sharks and epaulette sharks in Raja Ampat live and hunt in the fertile sediment on the sea floor near reefs. They can swim or move along the bottom by walking on their pectoral fins.

Tassled Wobbegong Shark
Tassled Wobbegong Shark cc 2 Jon Hanson

Tasselled and Ornate Wobbegong

There are two species of wobbegong walking sharks in Raja Ampat – the tasselled wobbegong and the ornate wobbegong. The tasselled variety is alone in its genus, and individuals lead solitary lives. They can get quite large, reaching up to 1.8 meters long, but they are well camouflaged. Beard-like dermal lobes hang from its head and barbels surround the nose.  The name “wobbegong” comes from Australian aboriginal language for “shaggy beard.” The ornate wobbegong also has barbels dermal lobes but is considerably smaller, rarely exceeding 1 meter. Both specices are nocturnal bottom dwellers. They can ‘walk’ on their pectoral fins. Avoid getting to close to them. They may bite people if they feel threatened.

Tassled Wobbegong Sharks in Raja Ampat
Tassled Wobbegong Shark – Lakshmi Sawitri cc 2.0

Epaulette Sharks

Epaulette sharks have a large black spot on each side behind their pectoral fins that some say makes them look like military epaulettes, hence the name. These bottom dwelling nocturnal sharks often wriggle their bodies and push with their pectoral fins to ‘walk’ along the sea floor, so they are also called “walking sharks.”

Epaulette sharks are often stranded in tide pools in the reef when the tide goes out. The sharks and other creatures in the pool use up the oxygen, reducing concentrations by up to 80%. To cope with these deadly hypoxic conditions, the epaulette shark is able to regulate its cardio vascular system dramatically. Blood pressure and heart rate drop by half and blood vessels in the body constrict, concentrating oxygen in the brain. This allows these amazing creatures to survive for hours with very little oxygen.

New Species of Epaulette Shark

Recently, in 2013, marine biologists discovered a new species of hemiscyllium – the epaulette shark genus – and named it Hemiscyllium halmahera after Halmahera island in Raja Ampat. There are 1,000s of species of fish and invertebrates thriving in the protected waters of Raja Ampat, teeming over reefs containing 3/4ths of all living coral species. The seas are full of breath taking underwater sights and abundant life.

More Info About Raja Ampat Liveaboard Dive Trips

Want to know what a trip to Raja Ampat is really like? Read more about Raja Ampat dive sites and Raja Ampat liveboard adventures, and the rare and amazing marine life of Raja Ampat.

Come join us on a cabin booking liveaboard dive trip in Raja Ampat and discover this amazing underwater world for yourself. We also offer private dive charters in Raja Ampat. Experience the incredible bio-diversity at the protected heart of the Coral Triangle. Perhaps you can even discover a new species!


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