Recently there has been a considerable amount of action on the surface here in Raja Ampat. In the first month or so of the season we had multiple encounters with the ultra rare Omura’s whale as they demonstrated how to properly lunge feed to their oversized offspring. The plankton which drew the whales close into the islands has also drawn in other filter feeders like mobula rays, mantas, and large shoals of silversides which all much on the microscopic shrimpies in the water. It is these shoals of silversides though that has drawn in quite an array of pelagic predators which we have been seeing a lot of the last couple weeks like the orange-spot travellie, dolphins, pilot whales, and to my surprise sharks!

Up until last week I had never seen sharks actively participating in a surface bait-ball. All my shark encounters have been down on the reefs where they routinely patrol the outer perimeter and occasionally join in on an attack led by the giant travellies. While moored in in south Misool the water around the boat started to bubble as a school bonito, a smaller species of tuna, voraciously attacked a dense ball of silversides from below while the frigate birds took turns diving headfirst into the action. Larger fins could be seen flailing around on the surface and since none of us had ever seen sharks mixed in the action before we all assumed they were from the giant travellies or possibly mobula rays. The large fins were from neither.

I quickly grabbed my fins, mask, and camera eager to partake in the action, though it would be strictly a documentary experience rather than a culinary experience for me. The thing with bait balls is that the action is over just as quickly as it starts, which was what happened in this particular case. When I arrived on the scene I was only welcomed by a giant great barracuda who quickly swam away once he figured out I was a very pale human in a brown speedo and not a mouthful of tiny fish. Shortly after the barracuda departed the owners who’s giant pectoral and dorsal fins had been seen flapping about on the surface made themselves known as I found myself in the company of two very beautiful and quite
inquisitive grey reef sharks. They came right up to me, just a meter away from me and my camera as if to assure themselves that I was not a ball of little sliver fish in disguise. Luckily my now fluorescent pink flesh made it quite clear I was not. They circled me several times, which I will admit was a bit eerie but as they were showing no signs of aggression I believe it was more of an inquisitive behavior, as if to ask, “hey buddy, which way did the food go?” They disappeared into the blue from which they came just as the bait-ball returned to the surface several hundred meters away from where I was.

Mermaid II Raja Ampat Scuba Diving
January 18 – 26, 2017

Alex Lindbloom