Category Archives: Malaysia

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters

I went swimming in shark infested waters – and lived to tell about it!

Swimming in Shark Infested Waters – SCUBA Diving with sharks, no cage

We went SCUBA diving in the Semporna Archipelago, and sharks were everywhere!  This was only my second time seeing whitetip reef sharks while SCUBA diving so I was still getting comfortable with the idea of it. Eventually I got really excited to see (and photograph sharks – we saw a dozens of sharks per dive!

I’ve received tons of questions about diving with sharks, so I’ll tell you about it here. I’ll also attempt to dispel some myths about sharks.

Whitetip Reef shark - notice the white on the tip of his fin. Swimming in shark infested waters
These majestic creatures get their name from the tips of their fin – see the dorsal fin in this photo. I was this close in Borneo!

Are sharks dangerous??

This is the most common question I get when people hear my excitement about swimming with sharks.  The short answer: No.  Sharks are not inherently dangerous to people.

We’ve all seen the movie Jaws, but not all sharks are the same. The overwhelming majority of sharks are not dangerous (unless provoked).  These were reef sharks – people commonly refer to them as “vegetarian”* sharks!

They’re just as scared of us, as we’re the same size as them.

Are reef sharks dangerous?

Whitetip Reef sharks are curious. They’ll swim right up to you, and fortunately aren’t typically aggressive unless provoked.

Are dangerous sharks in Borneo?

When you dive safely and don’t provoke sharks, it’s safe. The places where I went are safe when diving safely.  Sipadan and the Semporna Archipelago also have a reputation for having Hammer Head Sharks, but the divers I met said they hadn’t seen them in a long time.

[Note – unlike what my dive master told me, whitetip reef sharks are not actually “vegetarians” – their diet is explained below]

Reef Shark infested waters in Semporna Archipelago Borneo Diving

Why are they called Whitetip Reef Sharks?

Whitetip Reef Sharks get their name from their fins, both of which are white tipped.  Whitetip Reef Sharks can be found swimming alongside us and the other fish. They also like to hang out near the ocean floor and in caves.

holy sh*t! that's a shark! Up close with a whitetip reef shark in Borneo. shark infested waters were safe. I went swimming in shark infested waters, and lived to tell about it!
Up close with a white tip reef shark in Borneo

“Wait, you went diving with sharks and weren’t even protected in a cage??”

Do you need a cage to dive in “shark infested waters” ?  

Nope! I live dangerously. Seriously, with a few precautions, not all sharks are aggressive and a cage isn’t necessary for Borneo and in many other regions of the world, assuming you’re not deliberately doing stupid things (listed below). If you treat them with respect and are smart, they’re not the vicious predators you see in movies like “Jaws.”

“I would do anything … but I won’t do that” –

Are all shark species safe to go diving without a cage?

No! I wouldn’t seek out Bull Sharks or Tiger Sharks, or the Great White, the “most feared predator on earth,” to dive with.  There are people that do (including some in the comments below), and SCUBA diving tourism is souring, but it’s all about comfort level and education.

Here’s what I do NOT recommend:
  • You don’t want to deliberately confuse a shark as to their food. I wouldn’t dive with a group that deliberately throws dead fish and blood in the water (called “chum” – more on “chumming” from wikipedia here), and I don’t recommend you do either.
  • I wouldn’t go spear fishing, as they’ll try to steal catches and maybe get curious. Some say they also hear the sound of a spear gun and respond in seconds.
  • I also wouldn’t recommend that you make physical contact with a shark, tease a shark, or otherwise mess with their environment.

All three of these are messing with the shark’s environment, and leads to accidents. Why increase your risk and make it dangerous?

Perhaps I’ll feel differently over time. I doubt it As of now this is where my comfort level is. I was just swimming and photographing in their world, and loving it!

How close did you get? 

This was my first shark sighting of the day. I'd see many more and much closer. I was swimming in "shark infested waters" and loving it!
This was my first shark sighting of the day. I’d see many more and much closer.

What do whitetip reef sharks eat?

If they don’t eat people…what do whitetip reef sharks eat?

Whitetip Sharks hunt at night, and like to eat octopus, crabs, and lobsters, and hang out on the ocean floor near potential meals. They have a blunt snout so when they’re getting into caves, they can still snatch some lunch. They also mix into their diet some bony fish, including eels, squirrelfishes, snappers, surgeonfishes, triggerfish, damselfishes, parrotfishes, and goatfishes. Yum!

Scuba diving swimming with sharks! white tip reef shark on the ocean floor
whitetip reef sharks often like to hang out near the ocean floor

Even after seeing dozens of reef sharks in the Semporna Archipelago, it was still exciting!

Reef Sharks come in 3 varieties –

  • Whitetip Reef Shark, Triaenodon obesus (sometimes written as White Tipped Reef Sharks or White Tip Reef Shark)
  • Gray Reef Shark, Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos (also called Grey Reef Sharks)
  • Blackfin Reef Shark, Carcharhinus melanopterus (also called Blacktip Reef Sharks)
The Whitetip Reef Shark has a similar name as Oceanic Whitetip Sharks, but these are VERY different.

reef shark! these shark infested waters only had safe sharks

How big are baby sharks?

Baby Whitetip Reef Sharks are 20-24 inches, after a 5-month pregnancy.

Are Whitetip Reef Sharks an endangered species?

No, but their conservation status is “near threatened.” Fisherman hunt them for their fins, to make “shark fin soup.”

Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me
Visibility was poor, but I was still able to see this shark right in front of me

Where were these shark infested waters photos from? 

Sipadan is easily my favorite SCUBA dive site yet! Sipadan is located in the Semporna Archipelago in Borneo. I was momentarily terrified when I found myself eye-to-eye with a shark during my SCUBA Diving open water test, in Bali Indonesia, but by the time I got to Malaysian Borneo I was seeking them out. I found plenty!  The Semporna Archipelago is known for having tons of whitetip reef sharks and it didn’t disappoint.

when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared
when I finished clearing my mask, look what appeared

Discovery Channel’s Shark Week typically premieres in August in the United States – check listings.

If you’re thinking about getting open water Padi certified for scuba diving, I’ve put together what you need to know here.

These weren’t largest sharks I was in the water with – I also went Snorkeling with Whale Sharks in the Philippines – awesome!

I also saw sharks in Bali, and sharks in Thailand and will post about those soon too.

What has your experience been? Have you ever gone swimming in shark infested waters, without a cage?

SCUBA Diving in Sipadan with Sharks, Sea Turtles, Barracudas, & more!

SCUBA Diving in Sipadan  might be the best in the world! It’s teeming with colorful fish, sharks, and has great visibility.

SCUBA Diving in Sipadan

Sharks in every dive!

While it can’t be promised, some see sharks in nearly every dive. They’re everywhere, and don’t seem to care much about the divers swimming a few feet away.

I’ve included multiple Sipadan dive photos below, including sharks, Sea Turtles, and Harlequinn Sweetlips. It was also my first time seeing big eye emperors, school of jackfish, purple antihas, Unicornfish, and more. I’ve also included photos of surgeonfish, yellow mask angelfish, triggerfish, butterfly fish, parrotfish, and more!

Whitetip Reef Shark while SCUBA Diving in Sipadan
surprise visitors during our dive – sharks!

How to take better diving photos

Taking (good) photos underwater is really challenging!  You’re aiming at a moving target in less than optimal lighting conditions. At this point I’m still very much a beginner diving. I’m still getting comfortable equalizing and improving my buoyancy. I couldn’t really focus on the photography as much as I would have liked.

See all of my Sipadan photos from my Semporna Archipelago diving experience in Borneo (Malaysia). This includes more photos of white tipped reef sharks and sea turtles.

school of Jackfish
school of Jackfish
1st underwater SCUBA Diving photo of me
1st underwater SCUBA Diving photo of me
colorful fish in in Sipadan Borneo
what kind of fish is this? Please add it into the comments if you know
Harlequinn Sweetlips
Harlequinn Sweetlips

A graceful Sea Turtle swims next to us during our SCUBA dive

A graceful Sea Turtle swims next to us during our SCUBA dive
A graceful Sea Turtle swims next to us during our SCUBA dive

 

 

These dives were some of the best variety of fish I’ve ever experienced. You’ll see underwater photos of Yellowtail Barracudas, Lionfish, Jackfish, Parrotfish, Yellowmask Angelfish, Vlaming’s, Big Eyed Emperors, Triggerfish, and more. I loved diving in Sipadan so much!

I was surprised with the variety and colors!

Below is the slide show with captions on the fish:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Baby Monkeys in Borneo!

What’s the only thing more exciting than seeing animals in the wild?  Baby animals in the wild! Check out these photos of baby monkeys – baby long-tailed macaques:

Baby monkeys – Long-tailed macaques

Baby monkeys - baby long-tailed macaque hanging on to the mother long-tailed macaque in Borneo | Baby monkey in Bako National Park, Sarawak region of Malaysia, Asia

Most common monkey in Asia

Long-tailed macaques are the most commonly seen type of monkey in southeast Asia. I saw them all over Asia, from Indonesia to Cambodia to the Philippines.

Male members leave the group when they reach puberty, according to Wikipedia.  Long-tailed macaques are also called crab-eating macaques.

They are opportunistic omnivores and have been documented using tools to obtain food, according to the American Journal of Primatology.

Baby monkey - Photo of a baby long-tailed macaque hanging on to the mother long-tailed macaque in Borneo | Baby monkey in Bako National Park, Sarawak region of Malaysia, Asia
notice baby monkey’s little hands and feet grabbing on

These baby monkeys are so adorable. It’s easy to forget that they’re wild animals. Be careful out there!

Baby Monkeys in Borneo - crawling

Most of these photos are from seeing these baby long-tailed Macaques in Bako National Park, in Malaysian Borneo.

Baby Monkey protected by the parent in Borneo - Baby long-tailed macaques in Borneo, Bako, Malaysia

Tips for photographing wildlife

I find these little infant monkeys to be so adorable! If you come across baby wildlife in the wild, be aware of your surroundings. Mothers do not take kindly to anyone else in between them and their child!

adorable newborn monkey in Borneo

More baby wildlife

These baby monkeys in Borneo were cute. Here’s my favorite baby animals that I’ve seen wild so far.

Which set of baby wildlife photos did you like best?

monkey carrying her infant monkey

I find wildlife to be  fascinating, especially in their own habitat! I love going to zoos, but this is the wild!

For more posts about monkeys in the wild, I’ve set up a link here. Learn about:

Asian Elephants in the wild

Asian Elephants – Facts and photos

Asian Elephants in Borneo are incredible!  They’re so primitive, so old, and the baby elephants are so cute!  We were on a river safari in Borneo when we saw a whole family of Asian Elephants!

After seeing them in the wild, I was really curious and learned some interesting Asian elephant facts. Next, I’ll share some photos from my Borneo adventure.

Surprising Elephant facts

I’ve also included some Asian Elephant facts that I found interesting are below.

  • Elephants are the largest land animals living today. They’re massive!
  • If you thought human pregnancy was challenging – check this out. Asian Elephant pregnancies last 22 months, baby elephants can weight 260 pounds at birth.
  • At full size, male Asian Elephants can weigh up to 12,000 pounds (5400 kg)! Females weigh up to 9000 pounds.
  • Elephants typically live for 60 years in the wild (80 years in captivity).
  • Asian Elephants can be up to 10 feet tall at the shoulder. They’re much smaller than African Elephants in mass, but are taller.
  • Elephants have up to 20 pairs of ribs and 34 caudal vertebrae (bones that make up their tails).
  • Asian Elephants have 100,000 muscles in their trunk!
    Asian Elephants have 100,000 muscles in their trunk!
  • Trunks are the single most important feature of an elephant, with 100,000 muscles in their trunk. It’s used for feeding, watering, smelling, breathing, and drinking. They also use it for touching, sound/communication, washing, and also for grabbing things.
  • Asian elephants have a fingerlike feature on the end of their trunk that they can use to grab small items. African elephants have two.
  • I noticed they don’t have the same number of nails on each foot so I looked it up. Asian Elephants have five nail-like structures on each forefoot, and four on each hind foot.
  • They’re also known as Asiatic Elephants or Elephas maximus.
we saw a few baby Asian Elephants in Borneo too - at Sungai Kinabatgangan in Malaysian Borneo
I didn’t realize it was a baby elephant until the adult elephants came up behind

Super smart elephants!

Elephants have incredible memories! Like many primates, they have very large neocortexes. They’re thought to be very intelligent.

Hungry Hungry Elephants?

Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark. An adult elephant can consume up to 300 pounds (136 kg) of food in a single day!

Endangered:

Since 1986, Elephas maximus (scientific name) have been listed as endangered. The population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations.

In 2003, the wild population was estimated at between 41,410 and 52,345.

Top predator for elephants: humans.

That’s right, humans are their biggest predator. They’d be doing fine if not for poaching and deforestation.

Did you know: elephants are known to be right or left tusked.
Elephant trivia! Did you know that elephants are known to be right or left tusked.

Elephants can be a “righty” or a “lefty”

  • Ivory tusks are used to dig for water and rocks, to debark trees, or as levers for maneuvering fallen trees and branches. Elephant tusks are also used for marking trees, as weapon for offense and defense, and as protection for the trunk.
  • Asian elephants are known to be right or left tusked. This surprised me!
Look at the size of this elephant's ears compared with its head in this close-up. Photo from Malaysian Borneo in Sabah
Look at the size of this elephant’s ears compared with its head
Adorable Baby Asian Elephants in the wild in Sabah Malaysia/Borneo! Visit50.com
I never thought I’d find Baby Elephants to be adorable but look at it!

We were THAT close to the elephants on the Kinabatangan River in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia,

Adorable Baby elephant portrait! Photo taken at along the Kinabatangan River (Sungai Kinabatangan) in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia, in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. It is the second longest river in Malaysia
Baby Elephant close-up – loved having my D-SLR lens to zoom in to snap this photo

Where to find Asian Elephants in Borneo

I photographed these elephants on The Kinabatangan River. It’s located in Sabah, eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. The Kinabatangan River is the second longest river in Malaysia. 

If you’re visiting Borneo, I loved this adventure! I booked mine through Nature Lodge Kinabatangan. Note, seeing asian elephants is rare and unexpected. They typically spot crocodiles, monkeys, lots of rare birds. They occasionally see orangutans (but all the way up in the trees).

It wasn’t the first time seeing baby wildlife in my trip. I loved seeing baby orangutans and baby monkeys in Borneo. So adorable!

See my posts on other types of animals. I post about camels, tiny tarsiers, macaquesproboscis monkeys, sharks, and more!

Additional resources: Trip AdvisorLonely Planet, Wonderful Malaysia. Thanks to Nat Geo, Wikipedia.