Whale Shark Adventure in Raja Ampat
There was a playful glint in the eyes of our guide, Arief, as the speedboat tender left luxury yacht Latitude in the distance on the final day of our one-month cruising adventure in Raja Ampat over a year ago. "Watch this", he said smiling, "I am going to give our young guests the snorkelling experience of a lifetime", beamed our Asia Pacific Superyachts Indonesia guide.
The guests referred to were friends of the vessel owners, two 12-year-old girls, a 15-year-old boy and the adults, city slickers who have spent most of their time in the Middle East - far away from the aquatic paradise of Raja Ampat. Arief knew of a secret spot and with this in mind, he insisted the tender’s tracker and chart plotter were turned off and the only directions given the boat crew were made with hand gestures and non-verbal cues. After 30 minutes hurtling along on glass out sea conditions, we were all starting to get a little sceptical of the ‘secret’ spot. Then, just as the tender tight turned past one of the many limestone monolith pinnacles that showcase the area and opening before us, was a flat calm large expanse of ocean looking out towards what we presumed was open sea.
"My friends swim in this area", Arief explained, "Now let’s get all geared up for snorkelling". The captive audience duly complied, excitedly exclaiming, "What lives here, Arief ?". The guide replied, “What you are going to see today kids, is the biggest fish in the ocean. The Whale Shark!"
I don’t know whose faces dropped from excitement to panic the quickest, the children or the adults. "Whattttttt? We are not swimming with sharks, Arief, and not with any as big as whales", exclaimed the kids. Arief smiled and said, "Don't worry kids, whale sharks are wonderful gentle creatures with no teeth. They pose no danger to you at all". The adults, looking sheepish, seemed also well assured when given this information. Arief then gave a very thorough briefing of protocols of snorkelling with whale sharks, explaining the key points being not to touch or crowd these magnificent creatures
Within 20 minutes of arriving to the location, suddenly one of these majestic creatures came into view, surfacing right next to the tender. "Let’s go guys", and before we knew it Arief was in the water as the teenage boy and the girls dutifully followed him in. The adults, somewhat less enthused, coming in behind them.
The thing about whale sharks up close, is they can never be described accurately. The pure size and grace and in the water and their coloration are all mind-blowing. The one in view seemed to know exactly where our snorkelers were at all times and stayed far enough away to keep them all at ease, but close enough so the underwater viewing spectacle had to be seen to be believed!
We ended up staying in the sea for over an hour as the beautiful creature glided through the water around us, mouth open like a huge pool vacuum cleaner, sucking in by the gallon the nutrient rich waters of Raja Ampat. Afterwards as we’re all in the tender speeding back to the mother ship, the chatter from everyone, especially the kids, was at a crescendo above the sounds of the high-powered engines. All were in agreement; this was by far the most amazing snorkel trip experience they had ever experienced.
Arief sat smiling contently to himself on the back deck knowing his job for the day was done, a job he loved that garnered splendid results. It will be hard for him to find something for his guests tomorrow that can reach these heights, but knowing Arief as we do, I am sure he will come up with something.
By Captain Jimmy Blee