Newsletter March 2019
Whalesharks of West Papua with #Legends of the Deep
By Wendy Morris and Kerry Lorimer. Photos by Hayley Baillie and Dr Mark Erdmann.
Exploring the wild and remote Birds Head of West Papua is to step into a world that is little changed from the time of Alfred Russell Wallace and his discoveries around this epicentre of tropical biodiversity. Rugged, jungle-clad mountains fall steeply into bays dotted with small high-standing islets of uplifted coral rock. Wide brown rivers bring rich nutrients to the sea, creating an explosion of marine life, from plankton to bait fish, soft corals and bottom dwellers, and from tiny fish to the largest fish in the sea, whale sharks.
On this very first voyage of the Seven Seas to the southern side of West Papua, we were accompanied by true legends of the deep, Dr Mark Erdmann and Dr Gerry Allen. These two have probably more combined experience underwater in this region than anyone on the planet. Mark, Regional Director of Conservation International, has spent over 25 years documenting and working to protect this area that is home to the richest of all marine life. Gerry has described over 600 species of freshwater and marine fish, and is the author of numerous books including most of the identification guides for coral reef fish.
Newly-recruited Cruise Director and cinematographer Alex, from Barcelona, was our team leader. Not only very experienced in reefs, Alex was a constant solver of all problems, particularly camera and light issues!
Our group included some veterans of Seven Seas trips as well as some coming aboard for the first time. From Norway to Australia, our common denominator is our passion for all things coral reef. This time though, we were on a mission to find Whale sharks that had been satellite tagged and monitored in the area around Fak Fak and Triton Bay. While Cenderawasih Bay has become well-known for whale sharks, this southern part of the Birds Head is much less-known, and rarely visited by liveaboards.
Starting in Sorong, usually the jump off point for Raja Ampat exploring, we headed southwest overnight to wake up to perfect skies and the islands of Daram to kick off the serious diving. Walls with Sea Fans and schools of Fusiliers, Anthids, Lined Snapper and Bump Headed Wrasse made for great wide shots, and for the macro photographers, the elusive Pygmy Seahorse, cryptic shrimp on anemones and gobies on Whip Corals ensured there was something for everyone.
Over the next few days we island hopped towards Fak Fak, stopping at Pisang, Eka, Semai and Karas to dive 3-4 times a day. An afternoon dive on Day 6 on the mainland was to follow an exploration of a large limestone cavern that was known to be home to a bat colony. Much of the landscape is uplifted coral with erosion forming caves and caverns. The roof of this one has collapsed but still the boat could easily navigate through the entrance to the back - over 100m across. A very deep blue hole (known to be over 50m deep and locally rumoured to be home to a sea monster) is at the entrance, and large schools of bait fish cluster around the nooks and crannies of the walls, herded by larger fish that occasionally dash in for a meal.
In the damp stillness, the fluttering sound of the bats' wings deep in the crevices could be heard. Clear and still, the blue-green water was glassy above a rubble and sand bottom. Back on board, Wendy mentioned possibly seeing a shape on the bottom - like a log, but not a log. A logodile? Taking another look before our dive, there was no sign of a log or anything similar, so off we all went to dive the murky wall.
» CLICK HERE FOR WENDY'S & KERRY'S FULL TRIP REPORT & MORE PHOTOS
"The whole experience could not be better. The crew, service, food, special treatment, the quality of absolutely everything is hard to describe. I live for my trips onboard the Seven Seas. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. No where else in the world with you all could satisfy my expectations and wants more. You are all terrific, the crew is extraordinary. I return home with a container full of goodies. I hope I make it back to you all. Be save and from the bottom of my heart, thank you!"
Tove Petterson (Papua Bird's Head and Triton Bay, February 2019)
"Wow! This is my first diving adventure (I was certified in December). Alex and Jeffry were amazing and the dives so beautiful. The staff was so kind, cheerful and fun. What a surreal experience especially seeing the whale shark, manta rays and soft coral. Thank you to everyone! Can't wait to return!"
Beth Madison (Papua Bird's Head and Triton Bay, February 2019)
"Wow! Thank you so much Alex and the gorgeous crew of the Seven Seas. What a completely unforgettable experience -definetlly a bucket list experience. As an inexperienced snorkeler everyone was so generous in sharing their knowledge and making sure my experience was awesome! A big thank you to Big John! Hope to be back very soon!"
Kate Slack-Smith (Papua Bird's Head and Triton Bay, February 2019)
» Click here for more testimonials.
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