A speckled fin, three feet long, flicked out of the water as Al Dove surfaced in a morass of fish guts and foam. Behind him, a nightmarish cartilage slit of mouth gasped above the waterline, then lowered back into the spray.
As the sun sank over Cenderawasih Bay, the wind sent swells the color of spilled ink surging through a tangle of fishing nets, which Dove was sharing with a whale shark. It was a juvenile male, but still a powerful, seven-meter creature with skin like sandpaper.
Swimming with whale sharks as they circle in open water—bulked-out versions of the familiar, menacing shark silhouette—is a potent experience. Being in the net with them is an order of magnitude more intense. “You do feel a little insignificant,” Dove says. “That’s good. I think we all need to be reminded that we’re insignificant from time to time.”