(English) Diving with Sharks in Raja Ampat

  • juin 25, 2020

In 2013, the entire 44,000km2 of Raja Ampat was declared as the first shark sanctuary of the Coral Triangle. Targeted for their fins during the last decade, sharks are now finding Raja Ampat a safe place to thrive. This regulation was strongly motivated by the increasing interest of divers for those mysterious animals and by the revenue that would come from it.

Twenty-two species of sharks have been recorded in Raja Ampat. Divers mostly encounter five species, that are presented below. These species are not considered as dangerous but wild animals always require a precautious approach. Here are a few tips to make your experience of diving with sharks in Raja Ampat unforgettable.

White Tip Reef Sharks in Raja Ampat

The white tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) is one of the sharks frequently encountered in Raja Ampat. Often seen resting on sandy bottoms or hiding in caves during the day. Unlike most of their relatives, they do not need to be in motion to breath but instead pump water through their gills. They are easily recognizable by their elongated narrow body, skin flaps on the sides of their snouts and of course the white tip on their dorsal fins and upper tail lobe. If they seem pretty lazy during the day, it is because they spend their nights hunting!

A white tip reef shark swimming in the blue. Photo @Secret Sea Visions

White tips are very shy animals so the best way to approach them is to take your time! Avoid erratic movements or big out breaths of bubbles and let them get used to your presence. A good trick is to stop looking at them, so they think you are not interested! Then slowly, you can approach them parallelly, making sure that they always have a way out. Even if they have a pretty face for close up portrait, white tips do not like people entering into their intimate space! (So do we!) If you encounter them feeding during a night dive, keep a good distance and enjoy the show!

Diving with Black Tip Reef Sharks

Black tip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) are one of the most common sharks of Raja Ampat. You may find them close to the reef, usually hanging out around the same area. They have a bright white band on the side, white belly, and all their fins have a black tip with a white border. Difficult to mistake them!

Black tips are extremely shy and approaching them is quite difficult. So let them come to you! Avoid noise, movements, and keep their trajectory clear. They will probably continue their way along the reef and pass very close to you! Just notice the curious look in their eyes.

Below you can see a video of black tip reef sharks in Raja Ampat.

Grey Reef Sharks in Raja Ampat

The grey reef shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) is the most impressive “shark looking” species of Raja Ampat. If they are usually under 2 metres long, they present a more robust body and a bolder behavior than the other sharks presented here. You will also recognize them with their black tail but the absence of color on the dorsal fin. They like to swim in strong current on reef drop offs, sometimes hunting in big schools of fish.

A grey reef shark curiously looking at the camera. Photo @Secret Sea Visions

The grey reef is a curious shark. They might come to check out divers, swimming parallel to the group or coming back and forth. If you saw 10 grey reefs during your dive, it might just have been the same one! If they feel threatened, they can adopt an intimidation posture, with a hunched position or swinging from side to side. Calmly go away while keeping the shark in sight!

Raja Ampat’s Tasselled Wobbegong Shark

The tasselled wobbegong (Eucrossorhinus dasypogon) is sometimes called “carpet shark” and you can understand why! With their flat body, their skin matching perfectly with their surroundings, they are the expert in camouflage. The branched tentacles in front of their mouth are used to hide their mouth but also to detect their prey. The attack can happen very fast!

Wobbegong shark at Papua Explorers in Raja Ampat

A tasseled wobbegong shark just in front of Papua Explorers resort. Photo @Philippe Seray

Wobbegongs are sometimes difficult to spot. You will usually find them alone laying in caves or on top of corals. Once you find one, it will make very happy photographs! Wobbegongs do not move easily and you can usually stay with them for a while. But do not test their patience! Some incidents have been reported with uncareful divers getting too close to them. If you are lucky, you might even enjoy watching them swimming!

The Walking Raja Epaulette Shark

The Raja Epaulette shark (Hemiscylliium freycineti) is a tiny shark (up to 72 cm) but one of the most famous sharks of Raja Ampat. Endemic from the area, this species was only discovered in 2013! Not only are they capable to walk on the corals using their pectoral fins but they also have the extraordinary ability to stay out of the water for nearly three hours! This allows them to live and feed in very shallow waters, and survive if trapped by low tide.

Epaulette walking shark at Papua Explorers in Raja Ampat

A tiny Raja epaulette shark hiding under corals. Photo @Debbie Arriaga

You will encounter the Raja Epaulette mostly at night, combing through the sediment in search for food. Check under rocks and ledges for more chances to see one! Sometimes, all you can see is their striped tail. You can also see them at dust in the seagrass right from Papua Explorers’ jetty! When approaching it, please do not put your lights and flashes right in its eyes, as for all nocturnal animals. As they swim or walk very slowly, they will not go away very fast. Use your common sense to know when it is time to leave!

Best Spots to Dive with Sharks in Raja Ampat

Grey reef, black tip and white tip sharks love current! At the tip of the pinnacle in Blue Magic, you will usually find them swimming against the current and they might stay with you for the whole dive! Cape Kri also offers good chances to see black tips. You might even spot some white tips resting on the sea floor, just next to our famous school of sweetlips. Other famous spots for sharks (and more!) are Sardine Reef, Chicken Reef, Mayhem, Lalosi, and our beautiful Melissa’s Garden. But always with current!

Wobbegongs are found on many dive sites, wherever you can find sheltered areas like big rocks or flat and large corals. You can usually find a couple of them resting under a big rock just under our coral garden in front of Papua Explorers Resort! For the Raja Epaulette, the best spot is definitely at our jetty during a night dive! Our dive guides will show you the way.

Tips for an unforgettable diving encounter with sharks in Raja Ampat

  • Do not rush your approach, big movements and bubbles will scare sharks away
  • Always leave them a way out, sharks don’t like to feel trapped!
  • Approach them parallelly, keeping them in sight but not looking at them straight in the eyes
  • Do not shine your lamps or flash directly in their eyes! (nor your buddy’s!)
  • It goes without saying, but do not touch them, grab them or feed them (these are wild animals)
  • If they look annoyed, gently go away while keeping them in sight
  • Enjoy the uniqueness of the moment!

Marine Megafauna Monitoring Programme

Papua Explorers Foundation, the SEA Centre, is collecting data on marine megafauna in Raja Ampat. This is used to inform the local government about the conservation of megafauna species and their possible threats. Since 2015, with the help of our international guests, we recorded megafauna sightings from nearly 5,000 dives! We record all species of sharks, rays, turtles, marine mammals and a few emblematic fish.

Do you want to help us? You can participate on one of Papua Explorers or Coralia Liveaboard dive excursions and report your sightings to your dive guide. You can also support the SEA Centre in its marine conservation sciences activities. Only with your help can we protect the amazing sharks of Raja Ampat!

More information on our monitoring programme and diving with sharks in Raja Ampat?

Contact Claire-Sophie Azam, our manager at SEA Centre – Papua Explorers Foundation

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