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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Four of the Best Raja Ampat Dive Sites

Raja Ampat dive sites offer world record bio-diversity in pristine seas with thriving coral. Around three-fourths of the world’s coral varieties grow in these nutrient-rich waters. Dense clouds of fish representing over a thousand species swarm over the vibrant coral reef. And an amazing tiny world of “macro” creatures hides in cracks and lurk in the muck, waiting to be discovered. This remote, unspoiled region at the far East of Indonesia, off Western Papua, has a small population and vast protected areas that keep the ecosystem flourishing.

There are over 200 dive sites that you can reach with a liveaboard dive boat in the Raja Ampat area. We have around 30 favorites that we visit regularly on our Raja Ampa dive trips.  Here we’ll talk about Cape Kri, Sardine Reef, Miosokon, and Manta Sandy, four of our favorite Raja Ampat dive sites.

nudbranch on Raja Ampat dive site

Raja Ampat Dive Sites – Best Bio-diversity: Cape Kri

Strong currents run through the surface waters of Cape Kri. Once you get down a little lower, they become more manageable. This site is renowned for bio-diversity. Several sources claim species count records ranging from 280-370 in a single dive. Depth here ranges from 5 to 25 meters deep.

Hard and soft corals in many colors cover the steep slopes, dotted with small bommies where fish gather in the lee of the current. Be prepared to be inside a cloud of fish. Schools of fusiliers, damsels, anthia, surgeons, giant trevally, and dogtooth tuna are common. Reef sharks visit here looking for a meal. Big groupers and napoleon wrasse drift in the current. If you look out away from the reef you might see a manta ray cruising effortlessly by. This site, like most in Raja Ampat, is also good for macro. Keep an eye out for colorful and bizarre nudibranches and fierce looking scorpionfish.

schooling jack fish on Raja Ampat dive site

Raja Ampat Dive Sites – Best Density: Sardine Reef

Sardine reef, near Cape Kri, rivals its famous neighbor for bio-diversity and has, unbelievably, even more fish. You have to stay close to your dive buddy because you can lose people behind a living wall of fish. Schooling trevally and tuna may pass above you, literally blocking the light and leaving you in the shadow of a large living crowd. They call the the reef “Sardine” because the species that live here crowd above the sloping coral reef like sardines. The reef drops to a maximum depth of 25 meters.

Clownfish, bumphead parrotfish, jacks, butterfly fish, fusiliers, barracudas and whitetip sharks dart around the coral as you drift by. Slow down in the lee of the reef and look under ledges and table corals. You may spot the rare wobbegong shark waddling whimsically on the bottom. Make sure to aim to drift past one of the huge gorgonians you will see here. If you slow down and take a look in the lee, you might see some pygmy seahorses.

Raja Ampat Dive Sites – Best Easy Drift Dive: Miosokon

With some help from your dive guides selecting the right tide, a bit of current will pull you on a relaxing drift tour of Miosokon. You’ll start on the current side of the island and drift to the south east, eventually reaching the lee side. The shallow sloping reef reaches from about 5 meters deep to 25 meters. The healthy coral is home to schools of snappers, golden sweepers, yellowtail and anthias. Once you get around the lee side, you can slow down and look underneath ledges and coral formations for wobbegong sharks and macro life like pygmy seahorses.

Raja Ampat Dive Sites – Best For Manta Rays: Manta Sandy

In the center of the best Raja Ampat diving season, from October to April, Manta Sandy is a must-do dive. Here over a shallow, sandy bottom ranging from 5 to 17 meters deep, as many as dozens of magnificent manta rays gather at a cleaning station. Several species of reef fish emerge and groom parasites from the mantas, who may swim slowly to remain motionless in the current or slowly circle the site for hours, allowing their symbiotic friends to do their work. It is amazing to witness this example of inter-species cooperation between the graceful giants and their smaller helpers.

More Information on Diving Raja Ampat

Raja Ampat water temperatures range from around 27 to 30 C, and visibility ranges from 10 to 30 meters, tending towards the high end. November through May is the best season for diving in Raja Ampat.  You might want to check out our articles on the species you can see diving in Raja Ampat and the advantages of a Raja Ampat dive liveaboard. The “How to Get To Sorong” in Raja Ampat section in our travel guide may also be useful.

 

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