The Awkward Wobbegongs

Wobbegongs, Raja AmpatIt’s hard to pick a ‘favorite moment’ to write about from this last Mermaid II trip in Raja Ampat. Was it the night dive with the two pink harlequin shrimp with the reef manta passing overhead, the abundant mantas feeding on the surface at Manta Sandy or the swimming wobbegongs? I’m going to have to go with the swimming wobbegongs as it’s quite an unusual thing to see here in Raja and only happens around February.

IMG_7144The same thing happened last Raja season, as soon as the calendar ticked over to February all the wobbegongs in Raja seem to have unanimously decided it was time to kick their normally sedentary lifestyle and be a bit more active. Although I have noticed that the majority swimming about are males, I wonder what that could be about? Hmmmm. I’m no scientist but my hypothesis is that it has something to do with love, or the wobbegongs version of it. Whatever the reason, just about every dive in the Dampier straight since the last week in January has provided us with at least one swimming wobbegong.

IMG_7129Wobbegongs are ambush predators which means they are typically found sitting under table corals and in small caves waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass by, much like a frog fish or stone fish. Unlike their perfectly streamlined cousins like the grey reef shark, which are plentiful in Raja as well, wobbygongs are clearly not built to swim. They have dainty, streamer like tails that they curl up like a sleeping cat does and their head is vastly un-proportionate to the rest of their body. They propel themselves through the water by rapidly moving their large heads in a graceless side to side movement as if they are continuously shaking their head in disagreement with their current activity, swimming. When they have found a new site suitable for their ambush tactics they simply stop swimming, if that’s what you want to call it, and let their flattened tear drop shaped bodies just sink into their new position.

Don’t get me wrong though, just because wobbegongs are not the the Michael Phelps of sharks doesn’t mean it’s any less of a spectacle to see.  It’s all of these reason why it is such an amazing thing when you look up from an anemone and see this hydro dynamically challenged, normally motionless shark now very much in motion and coming straight at you. They are so preoccupied with getting to their next destination that you can swim right next to them and they won’t alter their course at all which provides for some amazing and unique photo opportunities, not to mention an incredible underwater experience.