After fishermen set out wooden platforms to lure fish in the '90s, some unexpectedly large ones began showing up. Whale sharks! In 2002, this special habitat became Indonesia's largest marine park, a whopping 1,453,500 hectares off the Vogelkop peninsula. Since then, 160 different whale sharks have been spotted and a few have been tagged with satellite technology. The trackers have shown that some of these creatures live in the bay – and can be visited by tourists – year-round.
Swimming with a whale shark (or five) is an undeniably epic experience, but there are some important rules. Visitors must be accompanied by a guide, and only six snorkellers or divers can partake at a time. Touching a whale shark is forbidden, and guests must stay at least 3m from the tails and 2m from the heads, or else they may get inadvertently whacked by the shark.
There are additional, daily fees for snorkelling (15,000Rp), scuba diving (35,000Rp) and underwater photography (250,000Rp). The money goes toward protection not only of whale sharks, but also more than 150 coral species and many marine creatures threatened with extinction. The park is currently under consideration for World Heritage site status.