October 2012 ~ Here are a few more observations from our most recent trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia. Batanta, one of four main islands, is located just a few cruising hours from the port of Sorong and is usually the first and last stops on our itineraries. That has never been enough for me so for this most recent trip aboard the Dewi Nusantara, we planned an all-Batanta itinerary. The heavily forested island has been my favorite for beachcombing, birdwatching and some of the best diving in the area. On the first day, I found a tiny Rumengani Pipehorse, a fish described a few years ago from North Sulawesi. Two years ago, our guide Yann found one in Halmahera and now we logged it in Batanta.
We made a stop at Wai Island, known for its nearby manta and WWII airplane dives and…bats! Back in 2005, we went ashore for an evening cookout on Wai just as thousands of flying foxes (bats) were leaving their tree roosts to fly to nearby Batanta to feed for the night. Ned and I skipped a dive the next morning to return to the island. We found the bats hanging too high up in the Casuarina trees to get good close-up photos but the sound was just amazing. When we returned in 2006, I convinced my friend Darcy to accompany me to shore. Armed with my new camera we pressed through the center of the island and spent hours watching the bats. It was a muddy, guano-laced experience but totally worth all the mess because we even found a nursery tree where we could see baby bats clinging to their mothers. Now, six years later, I talked the bats up so much that there were 20 of us making the trek. The island was different – the patriarch of the small, resident family had died and there was a new dock and a few more buildings, but the bats were still there. I’ve loaded a short bat video at the end of this post.
I added a blenny to my life list: Meiacanthus crinitus, the Schooling Harptail Blenny, a.k.a. Hairytail Fangblenny. This was an exciting find for me – I noticed them because they were moving across the slope in a group of eleven. They were beautiful fish with lovely trailing filaments on their tails. I stayed with them as long as I could, hoping Ned would come along to take a photograph but he never did so the above image is a frame capture from my video. This little group, just off tiny Yum Island, was the only one I saw the two weeks.
We went ashore one afternoon to look at coconut crabs, terrestrial hermit crabs that are the largest land-living arthropods in the world. Juveniles use gastropod shells for protection but adults develop tough exoskeletons eliminating the need to carry shells. These are really big crabs!
My favorite beachcombing spot was Dokor Island, a place we visited several years ago. One end of the small island has a beach that comes to a point, apparently shaped by the water moving in and out of the channel between Birie and Wruwarez islands. The last time we were here, I remember finding many sea beans (the catchall name for assorted tropical drift seeds) and we weren’t disappointed this time.
Here’s my bat video. In one scene, you can see a mother bat folding her wing over her baby: