Avid diver and Nature writer Rachel Mason is back with part two of her report on the Underwater360 Expedition to the Banda Sea. After encountering whales and dolphins, the team are back in the blue for some incredible hammer action:
Part two: A hint of the hammers…
We start the next day diving the Amphitheatre at Suangi, which is carpeted with cabbage coral as far as the eye can see. Silver trevallies, a romantic pair of fire dartfish, a turtle, bumphead parrotfish, a banded sea snake and a rare rockmover wrasse, and this was the first dive of the day! We intersperse three dives today with whale patrol. Heading further into the Banda Sea, we encounter a huge pod of spotted dolphins, so sociable they make a beeline for the boat. You can see how muscular their bodies are as they leap again and again and bow ride as the Samambaia carves her way though the water. The lesser-known species of “Unhappy Chef” was also sighted, as we brave the downpour and dash back to the dive deck for yet another pod of dolphins, just as lunch is being served; absolutely everything stops for the cetacean sightings!
Each dive I find myself becoming more and more amazed by the coral. It’s staggering to me that I am seeing this for the first time and impresses on me more than ever the importance of this expedition. Gently drifting along as we dive Pulau Run, there is a sharp drop in temperature, a shiver also of excitement, and with that, in the gloom at the bottom of the wall at about 35 metres, we see a scout. Around three metres long, a hammerhead shark is lurking. We hope that there will be more to follow, but as gracefully as he weaved into view, he weaves away, leaving us wanting more!
The day is not yet done, and as we set sail again, we sit at the ship’s bow. Nikki “Spinner Dolphin” Friedli is in the bow netting just above the water for a bird’s-eye view of a chorus line of bottle-nosed dolphins and a calf weaving in and out of one another. Faster and faster they cling to the bow as if to race with us. It’s a mega-pod of 130 dolphins – they are everywhere. We are fortunate to briefly sight a pair of beaked whales too – they are extremely shy and sightings are rare.
Another day dawns with a clanging whale bell and the mad dash to the dive deck, toothbrush still in tow, to be greeted by about 100 melon-headed whales congregating. They stay with us for an hour, logging (resting) on the surface and “rooster tailing” – slapping their tails on the water signalling to one another.
Immediately as you descend at Pulau Hata, there is a beautiful swim-through, with 50 metres visibility and teeming with life – the globe of azure invites you in. The esteemed underwater photographer and ADEX Ambassador, Aaron Wong, takes a stunning photograph from below, and as the sun beams through the void, it seems very apt that it resembles the shape of a heart. A stunning wall with huge barrel sponges and gorgonian fans, the colours and diversity of the coral and the fish is mesmerising. A vertical school of barracuda shimmering in the sunlight, the silhouette of freediver Dada Li against them leaves a striking image in my mind.
Five hammerhead sharks at Karang Hatta in the afternoon bodes well, whilst the water temperature is a bit chilly when they are imminent. The activity is definitely hotting up, but we are shocked and saddened to discover that the population of green and banded sea snakes at Gili Manuk is severely depleted and we only see a handful despite diving here all day.
Next week, we complete the series with part three:
“As if awaiting our arrival at ‘Hammer Island’, a solitary hammerhead shark almost immediately emerges from the gloom, scoping the scene, about five metres long, muscular and powerful. He dips away from sight, and, apparition-like, over 120 hammerheads appear, schooling their way through the blue…”
To hear the experience of witnessing 120 hammerheads pass by, watch this space!