Return to the BHS. First time to Cenderawasih Bay
by Douglas Seifert
After many visits to Raja Ampat over the years, this year we succumbed to the siren call of Cenderawasih Bay, inexplicably putting it off for years, in spite of hearing of its glories and unique residents from Mark Erdmann and Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock and other wise diving trailblazers. Though we may have been late to the party of the Bagans and Whale Sharks Experience of Cendrawasih, there was nothing mundane or low energy about it. We had as many as six whale sharks at once under the bagans, on two of our four days spent in southern Cenderawasih’s Kwatisore Bay, and never less than three sharks at one time. I have had the good fortune to dive and snorkel with whale sharks all over the world, from Ningaloo Reef in the 1990s to the Revillagigidos and Isla Mujeres in the the past few years and in spite of the several hundred hours I have spent in their company, I have never grown tired of their extraordinary presence and tolerant demeanor. But I never expected how unique, thrilling and beautiful the experience under the bagans could be. The whale shark interactions in Cenderawasih Bay are certainly the most delightful whale shark encounters in the world and an emotionally moving experience that delivered way beyond expectations.
No where else in the world does the behavior of massing for a protein supplement feeding from fishermen allow a diver to spend hours with a number of whale sharks, learn to recognize their unique spot and swirl patterns, note their wounds from marine hazards and get to know the quirks and mannerisms of their own individual whale shark animal-ality (the word personality does not quite capture animal-ness correctly).
We also dived some of the reefs and atolls on the cruise run by the luxurious and thoroughly professional managers and crew of Damai 1, finding fascinating reef denizens everywhere and photo subjects galore.
One one site, where leaf scorpionfish were particularly abundant, living in pairs or trios in different coral heads, we found a beautiful leaf scorpionfish in a magenta phase. Returning by night, using special fluorescence exciter lighting and yellow filters, we discovered that the magenta scorpionfish glowed a brilliant orange visible in our lights from five meters away. The brown phase scorpionfish nearby exhibited no fluorescence! This provokes more questions than answers but its safe to consider that the fluorescence is visible to the fish for reasons that are important to them and we can only speculate that it has something to do with sex or a warning sign.
I was particularly transfixed by dottybacks and the various hawkfish abundant on the reefs.
The trips only kept getting better as we headed through Raja Ampat towards Misool Eco resort where we dived with a number of oceanic manta rays and saw mobulas feeding on sardines at some of the more remote sites. We finished our cruises having covered Cenderawasih, Northern and Southern Raja Ampat with wonderful photographs for future features and the warmest of memories of phenomenal dives undersea to carry with us through the rest of our lives. I don’t think one can really ever get enough of the diversity and wonders of the sea and a place where there is a superabundance of these characteristics is most definitely the Birds Head Peninsula and the Bird’s Head Seascape. I can’t wait until we go back.