A Whale of A Shark

In New Guinea, the world’s largest living fish share the water with local fishermen. Lucky for us, photographer Michael Aw was ready with his camera.

The giant fish is hard to study in part because it is hard to find and track. By tagging individual specimens, scientists have learned that whale sharks can log thousands of miles in years-long trips. But they sometimes disappear for weeks, diving more than a mile down and resting in the chilly deep for a spell. No one has ever found mating or birthing grounds.

Whale sharks are ordinarily loners. But not in one corner of Indonesia. The photographs on these pages, shot some eight miles off the province of Papua, reveal a group of sharks that call on fishermen each day, zipping by one another, looking for handouts near the surface, and nosing the nets—a rare instance when the generally docile fish act, well, like the rest of the sharks.

Just take a look at these amazing photographs from the hot-off-the-press National Geographic article:

A whale shark tilts upright and yanks on a net, trying to make off with a fisherman's catch. "This behavior shows they can be opportunistic feeders," says biologist Morgan Riley, a director of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. © Michael Aw / National Geographic

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©Michael Aw/National Geographic

Vying for position under a bagan, male whale sharks—two of about twenty that visit this spot—scramble for a snack. Typically an adult shark might cruise night and day at a sedate one to three miles an hour, sucking in enough seawater to feed itself. This group likely spends a lot of time in Papua's Cenderawasih Bay, making it one of a few places where the species gathers year-round. Scientists hope to cooperate with locals to launch studies of the giants. © Michael Aw / National Geographic

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©Michael Aw/National Geographic

"Suddenly he just jumped in!" says photographer Michael Aw. Sarmin Tangadji, the Papua police officer who escorted the photographic team to where the sharks congregate, "was so excited to see them up close." Aw shares that excitement when it comes to diving with a dozen whale sharks: "You are sandwiched in, sharks ahead and behind, but you want to be there," he says. "They make eye contact with you and then charge by. It blows your mind." ©Michael Aw / National Geographic

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Be sure to check out the full article online here or in the October issue of National Geographic on newsstands now!

http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2011/10/whale-sharks/aw-photography

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