|Whale shark in Cenderawasih Bay, Papua, Indonesia by Mike Veitch / Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2013|
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, but they are filter-feeders eating mostly plankton and small fish and, according to received wisdom, rarely interact with humans. So when whale sharks were filmed vacuuming up bits of fish from nets in Indonesia, it caused an internet sensation. But it seems that this behaviour is hardly new. ‘The fishermen around the islands have known about this for ages,’ says Mike.
Their nets hang from fishing platforms on their boats, and the night lights set to attract silverside baitfish to them also attract whale sharks, which have learned to suck up the fish from the drop-nets. The fishermen don’t begrudge them, regarding them as good luck. Now they really have brought luck. Divers and snorkellers are travelling here specifically to interact with the sharks, and dive companies, fishermen and local villages are recognising the economic potential.
Mike took this image of a sub-adult (about six metres long) in Cenderawasih Bay, Papua, Indonesia. ‘I wanted to show the whale shark actively sucking on the net – a learned behaviour,’ he says. ‘What’s not clear is whether the sharks risk becoming dependent on this food source. It shows just how powerfully humans can impact the behaviour of wild animals,’ though it is deliberate and accidental net entanglement that is the real danger to whale sharks.
You can view more winning photos at the Natural History Museum website. Photo used with permission by the NHM. And for our technical photographer friends, "Nikon D90 + Tokina 10-17mm lens at 14mm; 1/80 sec at f7.1; ISO 200; Aquatica housing."
Note: We recently shared a beautiful whale shark video by Shark Bay Films from this same bay. View here.