Take a stroll with a Walking Shark in Raja Ampat
It is funny – whenever we try to explain to an unknowing guest who is not particularly familiar with the infamous Walking Shark, we can’t help but portray them as the gentlemen of the ocean. They have nocturnal habits, are small, slender and prefer long walks on the beach. Yes, we said ‘walks’…
Not only can these sharks use their pectoral and pelvic fins to walk from one shallow pool to the next by wriggling their bodies, but they also have the rare ability to survive up to 3 hours without oxygen. They have mastered the reef systems they inhabit and feed on crabs and worms trapped in isolated pools that form between exposed reef structures. These pools’ oxygen levels can drop by 80% or more through their respiration. These interesting traits have made this tiny shark the focus of many scientific studies and epaulette sharks have evolved the ability to slow their heart rate and breathing, to gradually limit blood flow to certain parts of the brain. These incredible physiological changes mean the epaulette shark has more time to hunt on the reef before the tide rises and the bigger sharks move back in.
Raja Ampat however, is famous for the latest discovery (2013) of epaulette sharks, known as Hemiscyllium Halmahera, named after the eastern Indonesian island of Halmahera where it was found. They look very similar to their cousins but can be differentiated by their brownish colouration and clusters of dark and white spots.
When can I see a Walking Shark?
They are most active at dawn and dusk; we normally see them during our night dive expeditions and morning adventures where the tide is low and you can spot them walking across the tops of coral heads in search of prey. During the day, they can also be spotted resting under a coral head or wedged crack on a wall face.
Are Walking Sharks dangerous?
No, they will, however nib when handled – but prefer swimming or ‘running’ away instead.
Raja Ampat and the Walking Shark
The Walking Shark can rest assured that it will be well taken care of in the regions of Raja Ampat. On 20 February 2013, the Raja Ampat government officially announced that it has declared the entire 4 million hectares of coastal and marine waters a shark sanctuary. This means that all harvesting of sharks is now prohibited in these waters.
It is estimated that at least 26-73 million sharks are killed each year globally, mostly for their fins.