After a shout out to some of our previous guests and others who visited Triton Bay, we have managed to help Conservation International identify 8 new Whalesharks that are visiting the region. Six are from Triton Bay itself and two from Cenderawasih Bay. If you have any Whaleshark images that shows the ID Spot (please see our earlier blog) please feel free to share them with us and Conservation International. You never know you may have one that has not yet been identified and you can name it!!!
We would like introduce you to our newly named Whalesharks:
Firstly, those identified by our Guests: Rob & Susie Andrews, Marie Tartar and Faye Simanjutak.
To all Divers or Snorkelers that have visited West Papua and particularly Triton Bay. This could be your chance to get a Whaleshark named after you…..
Triton Bay Divers is working closely with Conservation International (CI) to monitor the whaleshark population in our area and the rest of West Papua. Prior to our guests identifying 8 new whalesharks, CI had recorded 197 different individuals by Mid 2020 in this region. We ask for your help in trying to identify more whalesharks from the area. Please see Mark Erdmann’s (Vice President, Asia Pacific Marine Programs, Conservation International) message below. Also please feel free to post the image of your whaleshark to Facebook or Instagram and tag us, for all to see. Thanks so much…
Greetings, and allow me to briefly introduce myself. My name is Mark Erdmann, and I’m a coral reef ecologist and the head of Conservation International’s Asia Pacific marine programs. I’m writing to you all to encourage you to consider submitting any images you may have taken of whale sharks during your time in Triton Bay or at Triton Bay Divers. As you may be aware, every individual whale shark has its own unique pattern of spots and swirls, much like the fingerprints of humans. As scientists and conservationists, we are interested in understanding both the overall population size of whale sharks in Kaimana and West Papua, as well as their movements and growth over time – and we can use these individual identification patterns to construct photo ID databases that allow us to do just that. We began collecting data on Triton Bay’s whale sharks in 2015, and since that time we’ve compiled identification photos of 37 different individuals ranging in size from 2m to 8.1m. Interestingly only 3 of these individuals were females – the rest were all juvenile males, which is typical of many whale shark aggregations worldwide. For the whole of West Papua, we now have 197 individuals in our database (12 females, the rest males), with most of these from Cendrawasih Bay, but also 8 from Raja Ampat.
In addition to maintaining our own detailed database of West Papua whale sharks, we also submit all images to the “Wildbook for Whale Sharks” global database, which allows us to check if any of our sharks have been previously seen elsewhere. Of the 197 individuals in our West Papua database, three of them have also been recorded from Gorontalo (Sulawesi Island in central Indonesia), and one of them, “Hula” – a 7.4m male, was actually recorded 3 times at Ningaloo, Western Australia in 2010 – and since that time has been recorded 5 times in Triton Bay between 2018-2019. This resighting (spanning a decade) gives you an idea of the power of maintaining these photo ID databases – we can monitor growth and movement over that entire 10 year period.
We have also satellite tagged 8 of the whale sharks from Triton Bay, which has allowed us to keep track of their movements in high resolution over the course of a roughly two-year period of battery life of the tag. Our 8 tagged sharks in Triton Bay have shown some amazing movements – Hula, for instance (the shark that was first spotted in Ningaloo), covered nearly 8000km in his first 14 months’ of tagging – swimming from Triton Bay down into the Arafura Sea, tracing the outer Banda Arc south of Timor-Leste and into Australian waters, and then back to Triton Bay! Most of the whale sharks we’ve tagged in Triton Bay have show significant seasonal migrations, leaving Triton Bay about the time the SE Monsoon starts to blow in May, and then returning to Triton once things calm down again in October/November. During the big wave season from May-September, they often head into the Arafura Sea, into Australian waters, or some go directly west to Wakatobi or Sulawesi. But they always return to Triton! During their trips away from Triton, we’ve had them dive as deep as 1880m!!
We’d like to ask your help to allow us to further expand our knowledge of Triton Bay’s whalesharks by submitting any photos you may have of whale sharks from your time at Triton Bay. Optimally, we are looking for images of the left side of the animal (the main photo ID “thumbprint” is left side, just behind gills and back to about the dorsal fin – see photo attached below), but we can handle right side shots, as well as underside shots that might tell us the sex of your shark, and video works as well. We don’t need super high resolution images, but better that they are at least reasonable resolution so we can blow them up and look closely at the spot patterns. You will be credited for any photos you submit, and we will only use them in the photo ID database; you are welcome to put watermarked copyrights on them as well if you like. If the shark you submit is a new one to our database that is not yet named, then you will be given the honour of naming it! Optimally, any photos can be labelled with the date that you took them, and if you happened to see the sex of the shark or estimate its size, we love that information as well – but its not necessary if you don’t know. Images/videos can be sent directly to me (firstname.lastname@example.org), or if they are large feel free to use Dropbox or any other file transfer mechanism.
Thank you very much in advance for your help with our research on Triton Bay’s whalesharks!!
Mark Erdmann, PhD
Vice President, Asia Pacific Marine Programs
Triton Bay (Kaimana) is one of three regions in West Papua, Indonesia, that comprise the Bird’s Head Seascape, which is generally recognized as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. This area is a major priority for the Indonesian government and global NGO’s such as Conservation International, the Nature Conservatory, the World Wildlife Fund, amongst others, and a network of Marine Park Areas (MPAs) have been established over the past decade throughout the region. For those interested, this report provides an update on the state of the MPA network and provides a detailed look at the work that these NGOs do here. It can be downloaded from this link.
Underwater Tribe talks to Dr. Erdmann of Conservation International about his almost 3 decades working in marine conservation in Indonesia and the South Pacific. From the beginning of his career, to the explosive growth of tourism in Raja Ampat, to his current projects, the podcast examines the issues that conservationists face. This is a must watch for those who wish to dig deeper and learn more about the development of marine tourism in West Papua.
In April 2018, Triton Bay Divers will be hosting Dr. Heike Vester of Ocean Sounds and Dr. Ricardo Tapilatu of the University of Papua. They will be looking at the suitability of conducting scientific research from the resort during the northern (boreal) summer months when we are closed for diving. During their stay, they will each a conduct a talk on their area of expertise.
“Whales in a Changing World – Raja Ampat”
Dr. Heike Vester (Ocean Sounds) will talk about her 3 years research in Raja Ampat and present over 17 species of marine mammals. Whales and dolphins are not well studied in this area and her presentation is one of the first to document the pictures, videos and sounds of most of these elusive and beautiful species. Even though the waters of Raja Ampat are well protected, marine mammals face threats and challenges that are man made, from uncontrolled boat traffic, unregulated whale watching, to plastic pollution and signs of climate change. We aim to study marine mammals in order to help maintain and develop better marine protection to ensure respectful and humane interactions between people and marine mammals.
Saving Pacific-travelling sea turtle species (Leatherback and Green) at Bird’s Head Seascape – Papua Barat – Indonesia’. Dr. Ricardo Tapilatu has been to Kaimana many times for his work with Conservation International. Leatherback turtles are critically endangered and West Papua is one of one of their few remaining nesting grounds, while green turtles nest on a small island in the western part of Kaimana Regency. Dr. Tapilatu’s present research projects are focused on developing conservation strategies for optimizing hatchling production from nesting beaches of the Bird’s Head Seascape in Indonesia and beyond, while mitigating the effects of global climate change. His blog can be found by clicking on this link.
If you would like to meet Drs. Vester and Tapilatu and learn more about their research, there are currently two rooms available during the week of April 7~14 when they will be staying for a few days. Please contact us soon at email@example.com as we do not expect these rooms will be available for very long.
Check out Paolo Isgro’s review on Wetpixels forum following his stay with us last year. We are looking forward to seeing more of his amazing photographs after his second stay with us this December. Below are a few of the images showcased in his trip report. Thanks Paolo for sharing.
In early February, our guests had the opportunity to observe a team from Conservation International (CI) mount a satellite tag on a whale shark. The satellite tags record location, depth, and water temperature, and transmits that data every time the dorsal fin of the shark breaks the surface. This information will allow them to monitor the whale sharks movements over the next two years. According to CI, their program is the only one of its kind in the world. They currently have tagged less than 20 whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay and only 4 in Triton Bay as of Feb 2017.
Very little is known about whale sharks. CI’s monitoring and ID program here and in Cenderawasih Bay indicate that well over 90% of the 100+ individuals who have been identified so far are young males. They don’t know where the females or the adults are, and it is becoming apparent that Cenderawasih & Triton Bay must be some kind of nursery for young whale sharks. Of the sharks that we have seen ourselves here, most are between 3~9m. Our guests help contribute to the database by providing photos of the area around the shark’s left dorsal fin for identification.
Triton Bay Divers would like to thank Dr. Mark Erdmann, Abraham Sinapar, and the team from CI for the opportunity to observe them in their work. To learn more about CI’s whale shark monitoring program, please check out this link:
Even before my first visit to Triton Bay, I had known there was a resident population of Bryde’s whales here. But throughout the first few months we never saw them, and I admit I had doubts as to their existence. When I finally saw a water spout (but not the whale itself) I knew the reports were true. Eventually we did see the whales, but it was well into our first season. Sightings are still rare and far between.
Bryde’s Whales (pronounced as “broo-dess”) are baleen whales and are similar in appearance to minke, fin, and sei whales. There are two, maybe three different types of Bryde’s whales; the ones around Kaimana are coastal and are here year round. This particular species prefers warm water – it is the only baleen whale that spends all its time in tropical or sub-tropical water. They feed on anchovies (which are also favored by the whale sharks here!) and krill and grow to a maximum size of around 16m. For more information on this species, please check out this link.
These whales are not easy to approach as they just submerge if the boat gets too close. One August day coming back from Kaimana we saw them breaching from afar. We approached slowly, killed the engines, and waited. The hope was that they would come check us out, and one did, allowing me to get some video. This particular whale was about 10m long judging from the distance between his dorsal fin and his blow hole. There were at least two of them, and most likely more as we saw the whales surface from at least 3 different directions around us. It was such a thrill to see this animal up close and words just can’t come close to describing the feeling.
El Nino refers to the warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean along the equator from the International Date line to around the west coast of South America. It impacts weather and water temperature around the world and we have begun to see the effects of the current one. Expected to persist throughout the winter of 2015-16, this El Nino will be the strongest yet according to scientists.
In Indonesia, a strong impact has already been felt. Although the waters of the eastern Pacific are warming, the waters of the western Pacific are cooling, as we can attest to. In Triton Bay, we saw water temperature around 23 degrees in Sept, 2~3 degrees colder than normal for this time of the year. The other major impact is on rainfall. Southern California is expected to get much needed rainfall, but drought is widespread throughout Indonesia. In our neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea the drought is now 3 months, crops are failing, and water shortages are a major problem. West Papua, the Indonesian province where we are located, shares the island of New Guinea with the country of Papua New Guinea.
So is El Nino related to climate change? There is no consensus as more data is required, but as with the Polar Vortex during the winter of 2013~14 (which we blogged about here), what is not in doubt is that we are seeing more frequent extreme weather events, and the combination of these two phenomena will have a devastating effect on the world’s coral reefs.
Coral is actually made up of organisms called polyps, and these polyps have microscopic algae called zooxanthellae which carry out photosynthesis, give coral their color, and help the corals build reef structures. Under certain “stressful” conditions (for example, changes in water temp, salinity, oxygen levels, and the presence of herbicides and even sunscreen ingredients), the coral polyps will expel the zooxanthellae. When ocean surface temperatures rise for an extended period, the zooxanthellae are expelled and the coral lose their color and appear to be “bleached”. If the zooxanthellae do not eventually return, the coral polyps will die off. Studies have shown that coral bleaching has occurred when water temperature rises as little as 1 degree above the normal summer maximum, though the temperature at which coral colonies bleach differs from location to location.
On October 8, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared the onset of the third global bleaching event this year. The first two global bleaching events, in 1998 and 2010, were both El Nino years and this third mass bleaching event is expected to be the biggest yet, impacting more than one third of all coral reefs around the world. Already rising ocean water temperature due to climate change coupled with El Nino conditions are the two main factors. Coral bleaching has already hit Hawaii hard this year, and is spreading to Florida and the Carribean. By next year, due to El Nino, coral bleaching will spread to the Indian Ocean (Maldives) and the south-eastern Pacific (Australia’s Great Barrier Reef).
Why is this a problem? Because coral reefs, which cover less than 0.1% of the ocean floor, are some of the most biodiverse environments on the planet and are home to countless species of fish and coral. The loss of these reefs would damage the fisheries that help to support hundreds of millions worldwide as well as the tourism industry, which is one of the best drivers of sustainable development in developing countries. Reefs also act as natural barriers that protect coastlines from flooding and erosion, and the organisms found on reefs have the potential to provide new medicines to science.
What Can be Done?
According to Jennifer Koss, acting program manager for NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, “We need to act locally and think globally to address these bleaching events. Locally produced threats to coral, such as pollution from the land and unsustainable fishing practices, stress the health of corals and decrease the likelihood that corals can either resist bleaching, or recover from it. To solve the long-term, global problem, however, we need to better understand how to reduce the unnatural carbon dioxide levels that are the major driver of the warming.”
Here are some articles we researched for this blog post: