Raja Ampat is where jungle covered islands meet a pristine ocean. Both marine and terrestrial environments are brimming with creatures and unique species rarely found--or not found at all--elsewhere in the world. While the main draw to Raja Ampat is certainly its healthy coral reefs and diverse marine life, travelers can also see spectacular and otherworldly creatures on land.
Giant Oceanic Manta Ray
Seeing any type of ray while diving is a breathtaking experience. But the most fantastic species of ray, we think most divers would agree, is the manta ray. There are actually two types of species of manta rays: reef manta ray and giant oceanic manta ray, the latter being the biggest species of ray and one of the biggest species of fish in the world. The giant oceanic manta ray can reach up to 8.8 meters wide.
Both species of manta rays can be spotted in various parts of Raja Ampat year round. However, in Central Raja Ampat, the main manta ray season is from mid November through April. One of the most famous dive sites in Central Raja Ampat is Blue Magic, where divers can enjoy diving with multiple giant oceanic manta rays at one time.
Raja Epaulette shark (AKA the Walking Shark)
The walking shark of Raja Ampat is not just a legend. It truly exists and it can walk--and it is endemic to Raja Ampat, meaning you will find it nowhere else on the planet. It’s pectoral and pelvic fins have an increased range of motion, which allow them to use the fins like feet, and walk around on coral reefs and sea beds. It can also slow down its breathing and heart rate so that it can function longer with less oxygen.
It has adapted its ability to walk in order to navigate its complex marine environment. When the tide is low, water is trapped in shallow pools along the reef, and some coral reefs can be partially exposed to air. Various marine life, including the walking shark, can be trapped in these shallow pools with decreased oxygen supplies. In order to move to a more oxygen-rich environment, or chase prey also caught in the pools, the shark can be seen walking across the coral reefs and sea beds.
The walking shark is called “kalabia” by Raja Ampat locals. It is most commonly spotted by tourists at dusk or dawn while walking along the beach, or at night shining a flash flight from their overwater bungalows. It can also be seen by snorkelers and divers hiding under overhangs or large coral structures.
The dugong is a rare sea mammal also known as the sea cow. It can hold its breath for up to six minutes before having to surface again to breathe. It’s closely related to the manatee, but has a few differences--like its tale--that is a fluke like a whale’s tale. Its diet consists mainly of seagrass, which is why it can be spotted in the shallow sea beds of Raja Ampat. It can also be seen swimming in the shallow coral gardens along the islands, seemingly there just to play and enjoy the fish the same way we do.
The dugong is usually spotted alone or in pairs. We often see dugongs between the islands of Kri and Mansuar. It’s believed that dugongs are the source of inspiration for age old stories of mermaids spotted while out at sea. You’ll have to come search for the dugong to see for yourself if there's any logic in those ancient tales!
Another favorite shark in Raja Ampat is the wobbegong shark, often called the carpet shark. The locals call it “ikan hiu malas,” which means “lazy shark,” owing to the sharks natural tendency to lay still on the ocean floor waiting for its prey to come along. When the unfortunate fish or crab does come along, the carpet shark opens its enormous mouth and sucks the meal in before quickly snapping its mouth shut. One specific species of wobbegong, the Eucrossorhinus dasypogon, is found only in Raja Ampat.
There are actually 12 different species of wobbegong shark found in various parts of the world, primarily in Indonesia and Australia. They can reach up to 3.2 meters long and 1.8 meters wide. They are also ovoviviparous, meaning that the female incubates eggs inside of her uterus until they hatch and then are finally born alive. The average newborn wobbegong shark is 21 centimeters long. Raise your hand if you want to see a 21-centimeter long baby wobby.
Don’t underestimate a shrimp--especially when it has the strongest punch in the animal kingdom! This is not a joke, the mantis shrimp has two T-Rex like arms that can punch so fast that it literally causes water to boil. The mantis shrimp uses its powerful hitting technique to disassemble its prey. The mantis shrimp is actually not a shrimp, its 450 different species belong to the order Stomatopoda. Amazingly enough, Raja Ampat is home to eight endemic species of mantis shrimp.
Another amazing feature about these creatures is its eyes. They have trinocular vision, meaning they can measure distance and depth with the three various parts that make up their eyes. Their eyes contain between 12 and 16 photoreceptors that interpret color, which is three times more than humans have. They can see colors that we can’t even fathom. And if you can, try to wrap your head around this: they are the only animal in the entire animal kingdom that can see circularly polarized light; a special light that can be compared to the types of technology that DVD players use--but more advanced.
On land Creatures
Birds of Paradise
It’s definitely worth waking up before sunrise to see the red birds of paradise dance. These rare birds around found on the islands of Gam, Waigeo and Batanta in Raja Ampat. The males are truly eye-catching, with vivid colors and strangely long tail feathers. Not only is their appearance unique; the way they dance around and sing to attract females is captivating.
The other famous flyer is the Wilson’s bird of paradise, called “Cendrawasih botak,” by locals, which is fitting, as “botak” means bald and the bird's most distinctive feature is certainly its bright blue, bald head.
Local papuans call the birds of paradise “cendrawasih,” and many believe these birds are fairies reincarnated and flying around their jungles. We often conduct half day trips to see the red birds of paradise on Gam Island in the early morning, followed by two dives at sites around Gam.
What’s that stirring in the treetops? Or walking slowly across the roof of your bungalow? It’s a cuscus! The cuscus is an extremely rare species of marsupial, which can be found only in Papua and a small region of Australia. It’s about the size of a household cat and people often first mistake it as a monkey.
The cuscus is a nocturnal and extremely shy animal that prefers to live alone. When confronted by another cuscus, the two often become aggressive and make loud shrieking noises that can be heard sometimes at night by those staying on Raja Ampat’s islands. We encounter many cuscus nearby our dive center and Yenbuba Homestay on Kri Island.
It's time to plan your Raja Ampat trip to encounter these rare creatures, and many more. Reach out to us to get one step closer to this beautiful, species-rich paradise!