Attention Shark Lovers! This one’s for you…

All over the globe, there are divers and adventurers who are completely obsessed with sharks. They’re the ones avidly watching shark videos and writing ‘swimming with sharks’ as an item on their bucket lists. They’re the ones researching tropical destinations, chartering boats to shark-infested waters, booking tours to see baby sharks, and they’re most often recognised dropping into the ocean with the hopes and dreams of encountering these eerie, powerful beasts one on one.

Sharks, more than any other creature, completely polarise their audience. They’re an obsession for some – while they repulse others. But there’s something incredible about coming face to snout with any type of shark. It triggers in divers the most base of emotions. A prehistoric feeling that every sentient being experiences at some time during life; that humbling moment when our position on the food chain shifts and we sense ourselves as prey.

Even with those species of sharks classified as ‘non dangerous’ there’s a touch of fear, excitement and nervousness as you jump in to meet the hunters in their own environment. Your heart rate increases and your air use goes up. Some people freeze, some get reckless, some panic and others just watch, minds blown at the beauty, the grace and the sleek muscled speed of these creatures.

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Don’t Let A Fear Of Sharks Stop You!

Despite the fanfare, the truth about diving with sharks is that you learn to set aside everything you once knew about yourself. If you were unlucky enough to be ruined by watching a certain infamous shark movie as a youngster, you learn to put aside the irrational fear that there’s a giant in the water ‘out to get you’.

If you’re a surfer who has seen the damage to others’ boards and bodies from ill-fated and unlucky attacks – you’ll learn that the experience is totally different from 30 meters under the water.

And, if you’re an intrepid traveller or adventure junkie, you’ll learn that one shark is never enough. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself travelling the tropics in search of bigger sharks, different species and more close encounters.

This is partly how I found myself on The Mantra; a luxury Indonesian live-aboard with two fellow shark obsessives, and the lofty goal of encountering Scalloped Hammerheads. We journeyed through Raja Ampat and Maluku then over the Banda and Flores Sea. During our three weeks on board we were diving every day, and were lucky enough to experience some ‘up close and personal’ encounters with sharks of all sizes. However, there was one morning I’ll never forget. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Finding The Famous Hammerheads

For days, we were earnestly searching the Banda Islands for Hammerhead sharks, which are famous for their mallet shaped head and wide set eyes. There was a spot renowned for their presence, a deep dive that our computers protested, but we visited twice anyway without joy. Of course, nothing is guaranteed in the deep blue sea, so I wasn’t too upset. After all, we were regularly coming across white tips, black tips and the occasional grey shark, so I was getting in some fin time and improving my diving skills regardless. Over my short shark-diving career I’ve learned to relax more and more. The dives on the Mantra were an extension of that progress. Their excellent instructor had me using less weight, less air and having more fun than ever before.

Two days after these initial investigative deep dives we reached the third in a small series of volcanic islands. We anchored just after dawn and as the crew began to prepare breakfast, a boat of local fisherman came out to the Mantra for a visit. We’d been impressed by the previous day’s sighting of venomous sea snakes in the sulfur-ridden coral, but I had let go of the idea of seeing Hammerheads. Despite my doubts, the locals insisted that this island was rich with the species, so our Dive Instructor made the decision to jump before eating breakfast. We took the dingy and the three of us kitted out with cameras and dark glasses to block out the glare of the early morning sun which shone directly down upon us, illuminating the clear water and welcoming us into the tenth day of our trip.

A Casual School Of Sixty Hammerheads

We jumped and headed down to about thirty meters; the reef at this site was the opposite from the previous day’s post apocalyptic landscape. It was stunning – as it had been through most of the region. The area was rich with a variety of reef and pelagic fish plus a range of healthy corals. The sun was a bright globe above the surface giving us a well-lit visibility of about 15-20 meters and beaming light directly onto us as we saw the first of three schools of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks approach.

In popular culture, sharks are often said to swim in packs, but this really was a school. They were all sizes, males, pregnant females and even the occasional juvenile. Three groups with at least twenty Hammerheads per group lazily swam above us. They were going about their business as if a trio of mesmerised divers were not hovering just ten meters beneath them.

Some broke off from the pack to check us out with the sharp rudder-like movement that their heads allow. Their eye placement offers panoramic vision, so I knew they could see us, just as well as we could see them, but I didn’t feel fear. Instead I felt wonder at the beauty of these animals passing by so casually. They were taking their time in a migration to the next spot and nothing was going to hurry them along.

Hammerhead Sharks tend to hunt alone at night but often travel in packs or schools during the day, and while it was the first time for me, this was the largest number of sharks the others had seen at one time too. This is notable as unlike me, they are veterans with 5,000 dives between them.

But of course, like every experience, it had to come to an end. After shooting video and literally beaming into our regulators we surfaced grinning and went back to the beautiful Mantra with our minds blown and our tummies hungry for hot coffee and fresh fruit.

Seven Cool Things About Hammerheads

An Internet search will uncover pages of species and extinction information – it’s enough to keep you busy all day, so here are a few interesting facts about Hammerhead Sharks to whet your appetite. Yes, by now you can tell I’m a shark nerd of the worst type.

  1. Their favourite feast is the stingray and they scan the bottom at night using their heads like metal detectors, eventually digging out the stunned rays from under the sand.
  2. They are chivalrous, travelling in schools of 100 or more to protect the females who would be bombarded with males if they were swimming alone. In a large school, the female selects the ‘safe males’ she wants to have around her.
  3. Hammerheads are cannibals, sometimes eating their young or smaller species of Hammerheads without care to common parental manners.
  4. There are nine identified types of Hammerhead shark, the largest can grow up to 20 feet long, or six meters and weigh up to 1,000 pounds or 450kg.
  5. They are viviparous which means 20-50 pups will grow inside the female shark at once, the mother doesn’t care for them after birth, the pups simply huddle together for safety until they are big enough to hunt.
  6. They can tan! The different colours of the Hammerhead’s dorsal area are known to darken with sun exposure or to camouflage them from predators while their bellies remain pale.
  7. In Hawaiian legend, they are the most respected sharks of the ocean, children born with the Hammerhead as their birth sign are expected to become warriors.

Why You Must Go Diving On The Mantra

 I can’t emphasise enough how incredible my experience with Hammerheads and Mantra Dive and Sail was, so make sure you snap up every opportunity to see these beautiful creatures in the flesh. For me, the Mantra was the perfect boat to host my trip. Everything from the diving and the island adventures was top notch. Luckily, their team regularly takes out private charters, or you can book a double cabin on a scheduled trip. Get in touch with the guys at the links above.

 

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Manta Point Komodo – A Sanctuary For Manta Ray

Speak with anyone about diving in Indonesia and you’ll see their eyes light up as they reminisce about interacting with the majestic Manta Ray of the Komodo Islands. The Komodo National Park offers sanctuary to more of these beautiful creatures than most other places in the world and is truly unmissable for the intrepid traveller.

Manta Point Komodo

In 2014 Indonesia outlawed the fishing and export of manta ray to protect the species and since then Komodo dive sites like Manta Alley in the South and the famed Manta Point Komodo have found a place high on the wish lists of travellers wishing to experience close contact with these curious, intelligent underwater giants.

 A Channel Between Two Oceans

 Manta Point Komodo is a divesite rich with bottom based plankton making it an alluring spot – attracting dozens of Manta Ray for feeding and cleaning. Accessible by chartered liveaboard, the dive site sits between the islands of Komodo and Rinca within the Komodo National Park.

Geographically the site is directly on the channel connecting the Indian and the South West Pacific oceans, each hosting distinct underwater climates that come together to create an ideal environment for Manta Ray.

You can expect to drop down just ten metres or so to find a sandy bottom not heavy with coral but blessed with excellent visibility for most of the year and a reasonable current to nourish the nutrient rich arena for the Manta Ray.

Gentle Giants Of The Underworld

In Indonesia you can hope to find both reef and oceanic Manta Ray, but Manta Point Komodo is usually home to the more dominant species, the Reef Manta. They’re a long living species, with a life expectancy of up to fifty years, but they’re slow to breed, giving birth to as few as ten Manta Ray pups in their lives.

This is why they’ve been included on the red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The organisation classifies the Manta’s conservation status as vulnerable. While safe in Indonesia, in other parts of Asia they are hunted for their plankton filtering gills, which are used to produce medicinal concoctions.

They’re incredibly smart marine animals with large brain capacities and no barbs. This makes them harmless to humans. Divers who get lucky at Manta Point Komodo can expect interactions of as long as 30 minutes in the right conditions and will be thrilled by their gentle curiosity

Diving Manta Point in the Komodos

At Manta Point Komodo you’re likely to find small groups of Manta, often traveling in packs of two or three. Some groups base themselves in the tropical water of the Flores and Komodo area, while others are mid migration. Each manta has distinguishable spots on its belly and while these beautiful marine animals are capable of travelling up to 1000 Kilometres, many hang around and have become known by dive masters in Komodo for their distinct personalities.

Manta Point Komodo

The South end of Manta Point Komodo is marked by a little green island. Dive groups access the site by dropping in about 400 metres away, then take advantage of the current to drift dive into the shoal area which ranges from just 5 metres to 15 metres deep. The current in the area is rated as mild to strong but your divemaster is most likely to carry reef hooks with which to secure each team of divers.

In Indonesia, Manta Point Komodo is known as Karang Makassar and while the focus for most divers is the manta, there have been sitings of turtles, reef sharks, hump back rays, sweetlips, giant trevallies, huge clams, cuttle fish, sponges and many other types of micro marine life.

Intimate Manta Ray Encounters

Diving with the Manta Ray is truly a life-changing experience. Upon entering Manta Point keep an eye out above you for the tell tale shadows of Manta as they cruise past to check you out. They’re already aware that you’re in their territory but don’t feel threatened, these creatures are notoriously friendly and curious.

Upon siting it’s likely your divemaster will find a suitable spot on the flat sandy bottom and signal you to join them. This means it’s time to relax, adjust your buoyancy and sink down in preparation. By basing yourself on the bottom and not displaying any aggressive behaviour or sudden movements you’ll signal to the Manta that you’re safe and invite them in to your space.

After a couple of passes the Manta get more confident and begin circling above you, flapping their giant wings and even dropping down to greet you. Their huge bodies seem unaffected by the current and when relaxed they don’t hesitate to come so close you could touch them.

Looking directly in to the eyes of a friendly Manta Ray is a photographer’s dream but be discreet. Let them control the interaction and you’ll find yourself buzzing with excitement in a one on one intimate encounter with a giant marine animal unlike any other.

 More Info on Diving the Komodos

Divers who wish to visit the Komodos should plan to fly in to Labuan Bajo. Flights leave regularly from Denpasar or Jakarta. We offer private liveaboard charters to the area should you be travelling as a group. There’s also the option of taking a cabin on one of the exciting pre-planned Dive Intensive liveaboard trips that we run. Find itineraries, photographs here and take the time to read our other articles on diving in the Komodos.

 

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Best Komodo Dive Sites – Currents

The Komodo Islands offer liveaboard travellers world class diving. The area is famous for its thrilling drift dives and teeming fish life. Pelagics are abundant at sites near the open ocean, and macro species find their niche here in cracks and crannies in the thriving coral. We’ve covered several excellent Komodo dive sites in a previous article: Batu Bolong, Pillarsteen, Cannibal Rock, and Manta Alley. In this article we’ll take a detailed look at three more of the best Komodo dive sites: Crystal Rock, Castle Rock, and The Cauldron. All three are drift dives with currents ranging from mild to very strong.

collage of Komodo dive sites showing coral reef, divers in boat

Komodo Dive Sites: Crystal Rock

Crystal Rock is named for the crystal clear water and excellent visibility at this site near two small islets off Komodo. The main topographical feature is a bommie or pinnacle that rises all the way from the sea floor, breaking the surface at low tide. There is also a large mound that rises to within 14 metres of the surface. Fish school near the mound. The maximum depth at the site is around 35 metres. Currents can be strong here but are milder during slack tide.

The coral at the site is spectacular. You’ll see both hard and soft species in hues of red, blue, orange and yellow. The healthy reef attracts a lot of fish. A school of fusiliers usually hangs around this site, and there are literally thousands of other fish here. Anthias, sweet lips, damselfish, trevally, and surgeonfish are particularly abundant. Eagle Rays sometimes school here too. Tuna and mackerel stop by from the open ocean looking for a snack. Divers frequently spot a couple whitetip reef sharks here.

Table coral and cracks in walls provide habitat for smaller more reclusive species. Common sights include frogfish, scorpionfish, stonefish, crocodile fish, moray eels, big cuttlefish, red octopus, nudibranches, and flatworms. There are some magnificent sea cucumbers as well.

Komodo Dive Sites: Castle Rock

The black spire of Castle Rock reaches from a depth of 30 metres to within 4 metres of the surface. Like nearby Crystal Rock, the site has excellent visibility. The area around the seamount has strong current, especially near the surface. The current flows to the east, so get in on the west and descend. You can find shelter from the current on the lee side of the seamount. Sharks, rays, and schooling pelagic species from the open ocean congregate, avoiding the current. This is one of the best spots in the Komodos to spot bigger stuff. If you are really lucky, you might even witness a pod of bottlenose dolphins hunting in these fecund grounds.

You’ll see overwhelming numbers of schooling fish. Trevally, jack, grouper, emporers, sweetlips, snapper, surgeonfish, fusiliers, jack, barracuda and mackerel form dense clouds of marine life. The macro life here is great as well. The lion-maned “blue dragon” nudibranch always impresses, and you can spot a variety of shrimp, crabs morays and sea snakes too. Look out for pygmy seahorses among the soft coral and fans around 20 metres below the surface.

Fan coral at Komodo dive sites

Komodo Dive Sites: The Cauldron

At the east end, the site drops into a 20 meter deep cauldron-shaped bowl, hence the name. This site is also called “Shotgun” because the current blasts between Gili Lawa Laut and Darat here at up to 10 knots. You can take shelter with the smaller fish in the lee of the cauldron walls. If you look up you’ll see big tuna, grouper, and sometimes mantas silhouetted above you, fighting the current. Schools of anchovy and trevally dart around the canyons in the reef. The sandy bottom is swarming with garden eels.

You’ll spot a pinnacle here. Make sure to aim yourself to drift by and see the magnificently weird semi-translucent glassfish lurking on the lee side avoiding the current. Pipefish hide in the fan corals here, so be sure to take a close look. Don’t miss the hydra corals, turtles, and macro life in the lush coral on the northeast side of the site. Sweetlips, batfish, bumphead parrotfish and sharks round out the list of commonly seen species. The current is slacker in this shallow area, offering an opportunity to relax a little and look around.

Regional Dive Vocabulary: Bommie

A note on vocabulary. Australians all know what a “bommie” is, but if you are from UK or the US, you might be unfamiliar with the term. Australians, as is their habit, shortened the aboriginal Australian word “bombora” and added an “ie”. A bombora or bommie is an offshore underwater feature, usually reef, that protrudes close enough to the surface to potentially cause waves to break.

More Info on Diving in the Komodos

We have several more articles on diving in the Komodos. Our article on Komodo liveaboard diving  includes descriptions of three more great Komodo dive sites. You can get some ideas on how to get to the Komodos here. We offer private charter liveaboard dive trips in the Komodos as well as cabin bookings on dive intensive Komodo liveaboard trips, and our detailed information on these trips can help you get a sense of the underwater wonders that await you in the centre of the Coral Triangle. There are lots of great photos in the detailed day by day itineraries on these pages too.

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