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.

Remove term: Alor liveaboard Alor liveaboardRemove term: biodiversity biodiversityRemove term: diving divingRemove term: diving in the Komodos diving in the KomodosRemove term: hammerheads hammerheadsRemove term: komodo dive sites komodo dive sitesRemove term: liveaboard liveaboardRemove term: liveaboard dive trips in Raja Ampat liveaboard dive trips in Raja AmpatRemove term: Raja Ampat dive sites Raja Ampat dive sitesRemove term: sharks sharksRemove term: sharks in Raja Ampat sharks in Raja Ampat

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.

 

Comments

comments

Divers Guide to Alor Liveaboard

While there are some land-based dive services in the area, an Alor liveaboard is the best way to get to the incredible dive sites in this remote region in the far east of Indonesia. Few ferries service the rugged volcanic islands of the Alor Archipelago. Access is difficult and visitors are few. Consequently, Alor dive sites are rarely visited and pristine conditions persist, even as diving becomes more popular.

Alor Liveaboard Diving

In these remote islands near the centre of the Coral Triangle, you will discover some of the most amazing diving in the world. The bio-diversity is unrivaled.  Over a thousand species of fish and 75% of living coral species thrive in these waters. There is almost no pollution, so visibility ranges up to 40 meters. Alor liveaboard divers can access all kinds of sites – wall dives, muck dives for macro, drift dives, cave dives, and mellow dives over shallow reef.

Alor liveaboard reef

The sparse population of Alor and the nearby islands fishes with traditional methods – hand lines and the same underwater fish traps they have been making for centuries. No commerical fishing is allowed in the Alor Marine Park. The local fishing practices are completely sustainable. As a result, the number and density of fish you will see while diving in Alor is astounding.

The volcanic underwater topography, narrow channels and strong currents produce strong thermoclines. Hence Alor diving is best suited for experienced divers. Be prepared for the thrills (and occasional chills) of diving in current and thermoclines. What is the reward for the intrepid diving explorer? A vibrant kaleidoscope of hard and soft coral, dense swarms of fish, schooling hammerheads, giant sunfish. Diving in the muck, you will discover bizarre tiny “macro” creatures like nudibranches.  You will experience the mesmerizing feeling of floating above the largest, densest anemone field in the world.

Species You Can See Diving In Alor

The range of species you may see here is enormous. Known as the Amazon of the Ocean, the Coral Triangle is the global centre of marine diversity. Alor is one of the most pristine and fertile sub-regions of the Triangle. Among the coral and other marine flora you can expect to see: Black coral trees, whip coral, giant gorgonians, sprawling sea fans, immense barrel sponges and more provide habitat for brightly colored reef fish. You might see schooling hammerheads, big sunfish, turtles, giant frog fish, flounders, manta rays, eagle rays, devil rays, giant napoleons, bump head wrasse and many more. The area is famous for its tiny and bizarre nudibranches (a sea slug by any other name would look so strange!) Divers also encounter hairy frogfish, ghost pipefish, riboon eels, turtles, puffer fish, mantis shrimp, sea moths, and a wide variety of octopus and cuttlefish.

Alor Diving Season

You can dive in Alor any month of the year. But from April to October you are far less likely to experience rain and resulting reduced visibility. In mid-November to early March you are more likely to encounter unsettled surface conditions. You can expect water temperatures of around 25 C in the prime months. Visibility is usually 25 to 30 meters and sometimes even 40 meters. Occasionally a plankton bloom can temporarily reduce visibility to 15 meters on one side or another of the islands. Fortunately, with a Alor liveaboard, we have a good chance to move outside the range of the bloom.

diving from Alor liveaboard

Alor Dive Sites

Divers know 30 or more named sites in this area. While some are fairly well know, others are virtually secret. Divers at land based operations will have trouble reaching them all, but it’s easy to get to any site you want on an Alor liveaboard. We also explore entirely new sites that may never have been visited by divers before on some of our crossing voyages. We’ll save the secrets spots for when you are sailing with us. Here are three of our favorite named and known dive sites in Alor.

Clown Valley

Clown Valley just off Pura Island is a gently sloping reef rippled with small valleys. And completely, just absolutely completely covered with gently waving anemones. Clown Valley, named for the clown fish that live among the fingers of the anemones, is quite possibly the largest anemone field in the world. Clarks anemonefishes and tomato anemonefish live here among the millions of anemones.

Great Wall of Pantar

This wall dive off the coast of the island of Pantar has amazing soft coral coverage. We can see all kinds of tiny critters in the wall, shrimp, crabs, nudibranches, pipefish. It’s the kind of wall you could just stare at all day, but of course you’ll want to watch your dive time, and your back. Make sure to turn around from time to time because the wall faces the open ocean so a wide variety of pelagic species may surprise you swimming toward the wall from the edges of visibility.

Babi Crack

At this magical site around 20 meters below the surface, an earthquake tore a long crack in the reef off Pulau Babi that drops another 30 meters. The crack is not wide enough to swim down (less than a meter wide) but it provides a view into a cross section of the reef and a different habitat. The reef itself has a colorful wall covered with sea fans, soft coral bushes, sponges, and hydroids. You’ll find nudibranches, crabs, shrimps, flatworms, and giant frogfish among other species hiding in the flora. Marble rays, eagle rays, turtles and sometimes hammerheads also visit this site. Nearby Babi Wall is a great place to spot red triggerfish as well as all the species above.

How to Get to Alor

As mentioned above, Alor is a bit remote. We recommend to get to Alor, fly to Maumere. You can see more details at the link. We’ll cover some more Alor dive sites in a future article in our Mantra Chronicles series.

Comments

comments

Liveaboard Indonesia – Four Best Destinations

Dreaming of a liveaboard trip? Glide gracefully on the trade winds through the magical sun-drenched islands of the Indonesian archipelago. The romance of a sailing adventure beckons! Read on to learn about the four best destinations for a liveaboard adventure in Indonesia: Komodo Island, Raja Ampat, Alor, and the Molucca Islands.

mantra-blog-1-1

Best Destinations for Liveaboard Boats in Indonesia

Indonesia has the second longest coastline in the world, with over 17,000 islands spanning over 1,700 miles, so there are a lot of choices. Because of its location at the confluence of the Wallacea, Sundaland, and New Guinea bio-regions, Indonesia offers incredible biodiversity. Over 70% of coral species and more than 3,000 species of fish inhabit the Coral Triangle marine park. In addition, you can see endemic species of birds and wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else. Read on to discover four of the best destinations for liveaboard adventures above and below the sea.

The Komodo Islands

The Komodo Islands offer liveaboard travelers remote pink sand beaches and a chance to see the largest living species of lizard, the Komodo Dragon. Komodo Dragons can also be found on nearby Rinca Island.  Rinca, Komodo and Padar are all part of Komodo National Park. The government established the park in 1980 in order to protect the dragons. Because the park is the only place you can see Komodo Dragons, the area near the fishing village of Kampung Komodo hosts a lot of visitors.

Komodo Dragon from the front

One of the advantages of travelling on a liveaboard boat is that you can ask your captain to get you to shore at an empty beach, so you can avoid the tourists and have an adventure of your own far from the crowds. Trekking on the island you will see the famous dragons as well as wild pigs, miniature deer, and water buffaloes. Many species of birds also nest on the island.  In addition to the unique attraction of the dragons, the park offers protection to a myriad of pristine diving and snorkeling sites. If Komodo sounds like a place you might want to visit, follow the link to more information about our liveaboard yacht trips to Komodo Island.

Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat lies just to the west of Papua New Guinea at the far east edge of Indonesia. The name means four kings and refers to a myth about seven eggs, four of which hatched to produce kings. Subsequently, the four mythical kings inhabited the four main islands of Raja Ampat: Misool, Salawati, Batanta, and Waego. The region is remote and unspoiled and the islands are spectacular, with strange shaped under cut rocky cliffs and towers appearing to float above the water.

Raja Ampat consistently ranks in top ten lists for best dive and snorkel sites. Conservation International reports that marine diversity around Raja Ampat is the highest on earth. Liveaboard dive travelers can see an incredible variety of marine life here. Over 500 coral species are busy building reef in the waters around the islands, providing habitat for over 1,500 species of fish. Dense schools of fish throng around the reefs and enormous whale sharks and coelacanth cruise through the region. Read more about our liveaboard sail, snorkel, and dive trips to Raja Ampat here.

Alor

The remote and rugged volcanic island of the Alor lies to the north of Timor Leste and to the east of East Nusa Tenggara. Few tourists visit this unspoiled area. The island is almost all steep mountainous terrain with few major roads. Many people live in small, relatively isolated communities. Consequently, liveaboard travelers visting Alor can experience local culture that has continues almost unchanged for 100s of years.

While most the locals are officially Protestant, they still observe ancient animists rites and revere gods representing animals and forces of nature.  Many of the locals practice subsistence agriculture. Some people grow vanilla and almonds or harvest sandalwood for export. Travelers may enjoy visiting traditional pearl farms and purchasing a few pearls to take home as souvenirs at a fraction of the prices found elsewhere.

 

Alor has perhaps the best dive sites in Indonesia for more experienced divers. The volcanic origin of the region has created underwater contours as dramatic as the mountains island. As a result, divers will encounter strong currents for drift diving and intense thermoclines. The pristine water offers great visibility and an abundance of marine life. Liveaboard divers can see huge Sun Fish, hammerheads and dolphins against a backdrop of a rainbow of coral reef.  Alor is also home to the largest and most dense banks of anemones in the world. Read about our liveaboard dive yacht trips to Alor here.

The Molucca Islands

The Molucca (or Maluku) Islands have long been know as “The Spice Islands,”  ever since Portuguese traders landed in the 1500s and discovered nutmeg, cloves, mace. Modern liveaboard travelers will likely be more interested in the amazing bio-diversity than the spice. There are over 1,000 islands in the Molucca Archipelago, most of them forested and mountainous. The small isolated islands have given rise to many “endemic” species. (Endemic species are those that cannot be found anywhere else.) Rare nocturnal marsupials including cuscus and bandicoots live on the islands. There are around 100 endemic species of birds. Some birds of paradise only live on particular islands in the Moluccas and nowhere else in the world. The Aru islands have animals that also live on Paupua, such as kangaroos and cassowaries.

The seas around the Moluccas have deep trenches, so divers can experience the best wall dives in Indonesia here. Schools of barracuda and scores of smaller creatures unique to the area fascinate divers who make the trip to this remote area. Several species are carry the name of Ambon Island, the Ambon Pufferfish, the Ambon Scorpion fish, and the Ambon Cardinal fish. Bizarre brightly colored species of frog fish hide in the reefs of the Moluccas. Liveaboard divers also see many species of octopus in the region.

Want to Know More About Liveboard Trip Options in Indonesia?

Here at Mantra we love to help travelers get to the most spectacular and exciting destinations in Indonesia for adventures on land and in the sea. Please contact us and tell us your interests. We will be happy to make some recommendations!

Comments

comments