Newly Discovered Whale Shark Population Brings Tourism Potential to Indonesian Communities

Author : Nita Yohana, Published :

whale shark under fishing platform, Indonesia

Whale shark under bagan (fishing platform) in Indonesia. (© Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock)

In late 2011, CI’s Mark Erdmann blogged about an exciting expedition tagging whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay off the northern coast of West Papua, Indonesia. The trip was conducted in collaboration with WWF-Indonesia, Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and the Cenderawasih National Park Authority. Data received from the tags exposed the migratory behavior of these mysterious creatures along Indonesia’s coasts.

In Kaimana, on West Papua’s southern coast, the recent discovery of another whale shark population has triggered similar research, providing us with vital information backing the development of critical regulations to protect these species and support a burgeoning whale shark tourism industry that is both sustainable and benefits local communities.

Gentle Giants

Whale sharks are the largest living fish species, growing up to 18 meters (60 feet) and weighing 20 tons, yet they are known for being among the most gentle of the shark species. With enormous mouths that can be up to 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) wide, these filter feeders’ diet predominantly consists of plankton and small fish like anchovies.

Fishermen on Papua’s coast have long been aware of the existence of these animals. In fact, the sharks frequently approach the bagan (fishing platforms) where the fishers pull up nets of baitfish, hanging around for an easy meal or sometimes sucking fish from holes in the nets

Many fishermen consider the sharks to be good luck. And with an influx of tourists pouring into communities to see the sharks’ feeding activity in person, protecting whale shark populations will be the smartest economic choice for these communities.

Whale shark tourism has been thriving in Cenderawasih Bay since 2010. Yet in Kaimana, the region’s tourism potential is only beginning to be realized.

Kaimana is located in West Papua’s Bird’s Head Seascape, recognized as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity. Since 2011, domestic and foreign tourists in Kaimana have increased, yet the region still lacks infrastructure that could make it a more accessible and popular destination.

While encouraging tourism, it’s also critical to protect the whale sharks from negative impacts resulting from human interaction. The more we know about the behavior of whale sharks, the better we can help local communities value and protect them.

The Research

Up to this point, our understanding of the life cycle of whale sharks remains limited. We know that whale sharks are normally solitary and frequently spend a fair proportion of their time in depths below 100 meters (328 feet).

We also know that they are able to migrate great distances to take advantage of seasonally abundant food sources, around which they tend to briefly gather in large numbers to feed before dispersing again). Most of the sharks observed in these aggregations are young males in the 4-8 meter (13-26 foot) size range — but we don’t know much else. This is why we are conducting this research in Kaimana.

Since December 2013, CI has photo identified 11, satellite tagged four and genetically sampled six whale sharks in Kaimana. The satellite tags record depth, temperature, and light level data (used to estimate location) of the shark’s diving behavior over a certain period of time. The time frame of deployment of these tags varies; some have been programmed to pop off the shark after three months, while other stay on for six.

Every whale shark has a unique spotting pattern on the body, similar to a human’s fingerprint. By taking photo IDs of each individual (the left side of the animal between the gills and the dorsal fin), we hope to learn whether any of the sharks observed in Kaimana are the same ones seen in Cenderawasih Bay.

fisherman feeding whale shark, Indonesia

Fishermen feeding whale shark off of bagan fishing platform. (© Conservation International/photo by Nita Yohana)

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Documentary Movie : Monitoring Reef Health in Triton Bay, Kaimana

Pemantauan kesehatan terumbu karang di Teluk Triton, Selat Bicari, Selat Iris – dilakukan oleh Conservation International (CI) berkerjasama dengan Pemerintah Daerah Kab. Kaimana, serta didukung oleh masyarakat. Aktivitas terekam dalam gambar bergerak – menginformasikan keseluruhan rangkaian cerita membentuk Film Dokumenter.



Local Wisdom for Conservation


Kaimana, which is located in the southern region of  bird's head, West Papua. Dealing directly with the Arafura Sea, which has a high biodiversity

Kaimana, which is located in the southern region of bird’s head, West Papua. Dealing directly with the Arafura Sea, which has a high biodiversity


Local Wisdom

Customs and traditions attached to the life of the Indonesian nation. The cultural approach through local knowledge is an attempt to involve the local community, especially in the conservation and preservation of natural resources. Based on this, the zoning system built in Kaimana based indigenous peoples.

In the arrangement or division, Zoning system of conservation areas in Kaimana, following the Customs and traditions in the community.

Indigenous is a recognized custom, which obeyed and institutionalized , and maintained by the local indigenous people for generations.   While local knowledge is the great value that still exists in the system of people’s lives.

Kaimana- the first Region who use conservation areas based  Indigenous community, which aims to maintain the culture in order to live in harmony with nature, and respect for tradition in the territorial waters of Kaimana.



community- understand to keep the ocean waters

community- understand to keep the ocean waters



“Sasi and conservation  have the same meaning”.

Kaimana community has long been applying local knowledge in the use of marine resources, such as Sasi and Sasi Nggama Meti.  Actually, conservation also almost the same like  Sasi, which in its application conservation areas divide the area / zone waters by function and purpose. While Sasi, limiting space and time, as well as the resources utilized.

Conservation  not come to prohibit exploit marine resources such as prohibiting fishing. But, arranged for each region / zone can be put to good use for the purpose of survival of the community.

If in local knowledge, closing an area that should not be exploited known as Sasi Permanent, whereas in Conservation areas known as the  Savings Fish Areas or Food Security.

So, Sasi and Conservation areas  it is the SAME meaning,  just different name . The point is to make arrangements marine areas.




I’m a fisherman

Nelayan Cakalang Kaimana, Papua Barat

Nelayan Cakalang Kaimana, Papua Barat


Kaimana regency provide significantly contribution to other areas in Indonesia to meet the needs to fish resources. This increase clearly impacted the supply of fish resources. Overexploitation happened to meet the needs of fish consumption will impact on the supply of fish in the sea.

In order to keep the availability of the fish, then made ​​rules to regulate marine areas through conservation. This rule prioritizes for marine resource use by local communities or local fishermen and fish savings area (no take zone)




Juni, dimusim cakalang. Nelayan dapat memperoleh 700 kg Cakalang dalam  satu hari

Juni, dimusim cakalang. Nelayan dapat memperoleh 700 kg Cakalang dalam satu hari



June, season tuna in waters Aiduma. Thousands of fish play before dawn.Time show at 05:00 A.M. Fishermen chasing a bunch of tuna. Some dolphins appear indicating the arrival of hordes of tuna.



Tuna, Fisherman and Sea

Tuna, Fisherman and Sea

Boswezen- Traditional Market in Sorong, West Papua

Penjual dari Masyarakat Papua di Pasar Boswesen

Penjual dari Masyarakat Papua di Pasar Boswezen



Seka dance from the south of the Papua Island

Ragam budaya mewarnai Pulau terbesar kedua di  Dunia, Papua. Terletak di paling Timur Indonesia-menyimpan kekayaan adat dan budaya esotik memukau. Salah satunya terpancar dari seni tari-tarian. Di dalam kehidupan manusia, tari tidak dapat dipisahkan dengan aktivitas keseharian. Tari melambangkan identitas masyarakat itu sendiri.

Seka dance from Napiti tribe in kaimana

Seka dance from Napiti tribe in kaimana


Tari Seka-merupakan salah satu tarian adat masyarakat di Selatan Papua, yang meliputi wilayah Timika, Kaimana dan Fakfak. Tarian yang melambangkan ucapan rasa syukur kepada Sang Pencipta ini hadir mewarnai kehidupan masyarakat pesisir. Pada awalnya, tarian ini dilakukan sebagai ucapan syukur di kala hasil panen melimpah serta prosesi adat pernikahan, yaitu menghantarkan gadis ke calon mempelai laki-laki. Namun, seiring waktu berjalan, tarian ini juga melukis tanah papua sebagai tari pergaulan dan penyambutan tamu.

Di Kaimana, suku Napiti dan Suku Miere masih menggunakan tari Seka dalam denyut aktivitas sehari-hari. Sama halnya seperti di  Timika, Suku Komoro  menghidupkan irama budaya melalui tarian ini. Namun, di Suku Komoro tari Seka juga melambangkan semangat ketika akan  berperang, pada waktu lampau.

Selain Tari Seka, masih banyak terdapat tarian lainnya membingkai makna adat istiadat seperti tari perang, tari tokok sagu, tari melaut dan sebagainya. Budaya tarian yang mengakar dalam sendi kehidupan ini, hidup dengan ruangnya sendiri membentuk keragaman.

Seka dance from Napiti Tribe

Seka dance from Napiti Tribe




Traditional Flower Markets in Berastagi, North Sumatra


one corner of the traditional flower market

one corner of the traditional flower market


Blooms plucked across Karo plateau pop up at Berastagi, one of the traditional flower market in North Sumatra. It’s wholesale, meaning the fragrant piles of tuberoses, gladiolus, carnation, and lilies appears every corner of the market. Bright yellow chrysanthemums, a favorite for traditional bouquets. This market open at 06:00 AM until 01:00 PM