Arrivals & Departures Moby and Wally: Whale shark personalities shine through

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Photo of Angie Tomlinson

The homebody, the deep diver and the beach bum — it turns out whale sharks swim to the beat of their own drum.

A whale shark tagging project by marine researchers and adventure cruise ship True North has produced some surprising results.

In 2015, Conservation International researchers and passengers aboard True North started attaching fin-mounted satellite tags on whale sharks encountered during the ship's Whale Sharks of Cenderawasih Bay itinerary.

Adjacent to the Raja Ampat islands in West Papua, Cenderawasih provides passengers with the chance to swim with the resident whale sharks.

Swimming with the whale sharks is a little different here as the aquatic giants have a unique relationship with local fisherman and, consequently, can easily be approached.  

The whale sharks' docile behaviour allowed for tags to be affixed to see where they travelled when they left the bay.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding has been just how differently each of the tagged sharks has behaved,"  Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific marine vice president Mark Erdmann said. 

"We expected to see some generalised tracks of migration but in reality each shark has largely done its own thing.”

One of the sharks has been a bit of a homebody, leaving the bay only once in 25 months. Meanwhile, one of the smallest whale sharks to be tagged — a 3m individual known as Fijubeca — has clocked up 9000km during a similar period.

A 6m whale shark named Moby has recorded the deepest dive at 1856m in the Mariana Trench, while the similarly sized Cheggers has spent most of his time close to the surface.

Whale shark Wally has preferred to stay close to shore, while other individuals have completed impressive oceanic swims.

The data has highlighted several regions of West Papua frequented by migrating whale sharks, which are now being considered for inclusion in Indonesia's marine park system.

True North returns to Cenderawasih Bay in October. It's hoped more sharks will be added to the tagging program. 

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