The Bucket List: Sea Creatures you Have to See in Komodo National Park
Being renowned for marine life is a trait Komodo National Park absolutely relishes in; not only due to the sheer quantity of marine life that lives in the waters here, but the diversity of the sea creatures too! Coral-rich dive sites with varied topography and full to the brim with current, it is home to a plethora of wonderful and awe-inspiring sea life! As divers, we know that many locations across Indonesia and the World can be hot spots for seeing certain sea creatures or a special style of diving. For example, Lembeh is a guaranteed place to find a medley of different macro life, whilst Mexico is renowned for its array of big sharks and specialist cave diving. Komodo’s underwater specialty? It has an abundance of diversity across a variety of bucket list species, specimens and seriously cool must-see marine life for divers of any experience level!
After diving in Komodo National Park, it is arguably impossible to leave Labuan Bajo having not seen something new. This new thing could be a marine creature, a certain fish behaviour you haven’t witnessed before or simply the sheer quantity and variety of life that can be seen on one site.
So, at this interlude you may find yourself either booking your flight and dusting off your BCD… or perhaps you want to know a little more before jumping in, such as the best times to visit and dive Komodo and more details on what exactly you can find there… well, we have Ten Reasons to visit Komodo right here.
But if you’re keen to know exactly what you might find underwater, then stick with us and let’s discuss the top ten.. twenty… no, it’ll have to be the top thirty-three sea creatures you can find in the waters of Komodo National Park!
Where else should we begin but our beloved and curious friends, the sharks. The graceful soul of any reef, these highly misunderstood fish can be found commonly on most dive sites in the park.
There are three prevalent sharks that can be found in the waters of Komodo, cruising the reef from dawn till dusk they can be seen hunting in the current among schools of fusiliers with the Giant Trevallies. The presence and population of sharks keep the delicate reef system in balance and is therefore crucial to the health of the ecosystem and all that lives there. So, which sharks can be found in Komodo National Park?
The Grey Reef Shark (1)
These are the biggest of the sharks typically found in a Komodo, growing up to 5-6.6 feet in length, they can usually be found cruising down at depths or around 25m at the edge of the reef. For adrenaline-packed dives such as the submerged pinnacles where you aim to hook into and sit in the oncoming current to watch the action of these sharks, you’ll need your advanced certification and having your nitrox certification would be even better, as the two submerged pinnacles are by far two of the best dive sites in the park.
Kicking down to 30m, you hook on the rocks and hangout, watching these guys as they cruise the currents alongside the more militant hunters, the Giant Trevallies (2) and Dogtooth Tunas (3). As you float surrounded by the surgeonfish, bannerfish, and snappers as they hide against the reef from the oncoming current, you look out at thousands of fusiliers and rainbow runners. Listen carefully to hear the revving noises and simultaneously watch as the small fish separate like a dramatic opening of curtains to reveal the predators swooping through! Watch out for your NDLs here as the show can be incredibly action-packed and enticing to watch.
The Black Tip Reef Shark (3) and the White Tip Reef Shark (4)
Smaller than they grey reef, these two shark species are distinguishable by the colouring on the tip of their dorsal fin. You can also clearly see their difference in shape and size, as the white tip reef shark is more of a slender and long shape, whilst the blacktip reef shark is a smaller but similar shape to that of a grey reef shark. They can be seen cruising over the reef and under ledges and overhangs. Keep a sharp eye to see baby sharks hiding under the protection of a large table coral or small overhangs.
One of the main reasons divers visit Komodo isn’t for the dragons, it is for the resident Reef Manta Rays (5). Typically during the months of December through to February, almost countless mantas can be found passing by lots of the dive sites. However, there are a couple of sites that are renowned for manta spotting. The first dive spot is, Makassar, home to a host of cleaning stations and the biggest dive site in Komodo. As you drift across the flat plains and underwater dunes, you will come across large bombies, which the mantas frequent for a clean-up! During these months large mating chains of mantas can also be found swopping and gliding their way across this large passage.
The second site is The Cauldron, during certain months, you will be lucky enough to witness juvenile mantas here, as they hover in a narrow passage called, The Shotgun. Here the narrow passageway increases the current speed tenfold, hence the quirky name! This strong current helps them learn how to balance and fly in the prevailing current, though occasionally one touches ground in a bit of a fluster! You can also see a host of other fish life enjoying this current too, including grey reef sharks, Eagle Rays (7) and arguably one of the oceanic dinosaurs, the Bumphead Parrot Fish (6).
Looking like they time-hopped straight from the Jurassic era, the big, bold and beautiful, Bump Head Parrot Fish. As they slowly munch their way through the reef, they are often in solitude, but if you’re lucky enough you will see a school of up to thirty pass by!
From big and old to big, friendly fish, did you know that Napoleon Wrasse (8) can rotate their eyes 360 degrees! So, you might have a hard time creeping up on them, but worry not as they’re commonplace at Batu Bolong and many of the dives sites.
Time to get your glasses on, the next few are a little on the small side..
The Pygmy Pipehorse (9) is a delicate little creature, not quite a pipefish, not quite a seahorse, it spends its days clinging on to small details of the ocean; hiding from all the guides who want to show you them! On a scale of small, smaller and smallest, we’d say it’s rated small on the macro scale. You’ll be lucky to find them clinging on to small debris or coral with their long tails.
That brings us to the Pygmy Seahorse (10). There may be a time when your guide is pointing rather specifically to a pink gorgonian sea fan, they’re not trying to simply show you the intricate detail of the fan, but a small (almost invisible to the naked eye) highly camouflaged Denise’s pygmy seahorse. Only discovered in 1999, this rare and elusive little seahorse can be found in a few of the special spots in Komodo, if you know where to go!
You certainly don’t want our next critter getting near your glasses, introducing number eleven, the Mantis Shrimp. Now this is one creature you don’t want to go in the boxing ring with! With so many amazing facts about the Mantis Shrimp we’ve created a whole article on them, read it here!
Shrimps can be found in various sizes, locations, and colours! But the Glass Shrimps (12) also known as ghost and skeleton shrimps are by far the hardest to spot. These little guys love to surf the anemones, hide on the inside of small holes in the reef and down the edges of soft corals. On a night dive, you’ll be sure to see their reflective eyes popping out from every little nook and cranny! In the day time, you can look for their eyes or some faint markings on their pincers, but it’s not easy to spot them!
Nudibranchs! No we’re not being rude, they’re a type of sea slug!
With over 2,000 identified species, there’s a nudibranch heaven to be found in many of the warm waters of the Indo-Pacific. These specific sea slugs are defined by their external lungs, named ‘branchs’, which sit on their back looking like beautiful feathers! Their rhinophores are another defining feature, located on their heads, these two small antenna sense chemicals in the water from which they determine prey and predators. They also communicate by releasing chemicals, this can be to ward off a predator or to warn other nudis of their presence. With their curiously bright colouring and wondrously alien appearance, many divers will visit a specific dive spot simply to find new ones to add to their collection. In Komodo you can find many different ones, including the Banana Nudi (13), the Spanish Dancer (14), the Blue Dragon (15) and the Pikachu Nudi (16) – and yes, the Pokémon character was named after this particular nudi and it does look like it; you’ll easily recognise the yellow and black markings and its shape as the inspiration for the Japanese cartoon character!
From multiple species to multiple hearts, next we have the Blue-Ringed Octopus (17), measuring from just 12-20cm, these little guys are small and highly venomous and are considered to be one of the most deadly marine animals. However, they aren’t known for showing off and are elusive to most divers; who spend years searching for a glimpse of this iconic creature. Recognised by their small size and blue ring patterning; when threatened, their rings turn from black to electric blue and their skin changes from an earthy yellow to a pinkish-red.
The Wunderpus (18) What a name! (Latin name Wunderpus Photogenicus – and no, we’re not making that up..!) This little octopus is renowned due to its rarity on a dive sight and prized for its unique appearance; white spots and stripes on a rusty brown background. It can usually be found on a muck dive and you’ll be thrilled to know they’re mostly found in Indonesia.
Whilst on cephalopods, we can’t forget the Mimic Octopus! (19)
Related to the Wonderpus, the Mimic Octopus is named after its perceived abilities to mimic other predators when under threat. This cephalopod takes on the texture, colouring, shape, and movement of multiple local predators or poisonous creatures; such as flounders, lionfish, jellyfish, crabs, sea snakes and more. It does this as a defense mechanism whilst hunting or evading a predator. It can be found in the Indo-Pacific in shallow sandy bottom habitats, so keep all eyes open on the muck dive!
So, what about the likes of their relatives, the Cuttlefish and squid? In Komodo you can frequently find Reef Cuttlefish (20). However, you’ll be clicking that camera when you see their cuter and even weirder relative, the Flamboyant Cuttlefish (21). This small little fellow looks like he’s all dressed up and ready for the cabaret! You can also find the very cute and highly shy Bobtail Squid (22) on a night dive here, keep your eyes sharply focused as, although they are almost a glittering blue, they can be as small as your baby fingernail!
From shy to shell, we can never get sick of seeing these chilled out dudes, the Hawksbill Turtle (23). Sadly now included on the endangered list, this species of turtle can be hard to see across other parts of the world. Thankfully, Komodo is still home to a thriving population and they happily pose for a photo.
Beautiful, bright and blushing – these tropical fish are the Versace of the reef. The Mandarin Fish (24) staying hidden in the staghorn corals by day and emerging by night to mate and flutter their beautiful colours above the corals under the moonlight. One of few species of fish without scales, you better watch out because though beautiful, they host a sticky venomous coating on their outer layer of skin!
We have a curious creature next, the Frog Fish (25). This fish uses jet propulsion of water through their gills for increased speed of movement, otherwise trudging along on their fins (which look curiously like feet). They can often be found resting and wedged on top of coral at various depths. With many variations on the species including the giant frogfish and the hairy frogfish, these guys come in an array of bright and spongey colours. They’re such a bizarre texture and shape, it can sometimes take divers a rather long time to figure out exactly what they’re looking at if they haven’t seen one beforehand.
Ever heard of an Orangutan crab? (26)
What on earth? I hear you say. Well, these little guys are living close to a red algae and they use it for their camouflage. Funnily enough, this algae makes them look rather like an orangutan, as the algae grows all over their shells in long strands like hair, and it’s a bright orangey-red colour! You’ll find these little guys if you look closely enough, they’re not very big!
Taking off our microscopic lenses now, it’s always easy to spot the elegance of the Eagle Ray (7). Its distinctive spotted patterns are what makes it such a must-see for many divers, not to mention its distinctive shape and almost snout-like face! Getting a photo from above may prove to be difficult as these rays are usually found mid to shallow water and can be rather shy.
Cautious but never shy, everyone’s favourite famous fish, Nemo!
Can be found in these waters, along with many of his close Clownfish (27) relatives like the false clownfish, Clark’s clownfish and tomato clownfish. You’ll see their behaviour is so similar to that of the protective father Marlin, in the movie, Finding Nemo. As they bury themselves amongst the anemone, the biggest of the family charges out a little bit occasionally to try and ward you away from his home and family. They can be feisty, but this is also a sign of them being uncomfortable with how close you are, so try to keep your distance when looking for Nemo, we don’t want to stress them out.
One of the most recognisable shrimps, due to its distinct pattern and colouring is the Squat Shrimp, or our preferred name – the Sexy shrimp (28), aptly named because of its provocative butt wiggle, you’ll likely need a professional to find one for you and when you do – have your camera at the ready – these little shrimps are stunning!
Always a firm favourite among novices and professionals alike, Dolphins (29)! These intelligent and playful mammals can often be found at the bough of the boat or in the waters as you maneuver around the park. Keep your eyes open on the dives sites too as they have been known to come and say hello to divers!
If you’re wondering why the dolphin you’re looking at is a bit fat and slow, it’s probably because it is in fact a Dugong (30). If the myths are to be debunked then these guys are what sailors were calling mermaids! They can usually be spotted in more shallow water feeding on seagrass, keep your eyes open as, though very shy and slightly elusive, they are yet another resident of Komodo National Park.
One character who is not quite so shy is the Banded Sea Snake (31). One of the more curious of the underwater creatures, the banded sea snake, though highly venomous is usually just curious to see what you are. You’ll usually see them swimming into a hole in the reef, up to the surface or just away from you once they’ve decided you’re not a threat. Treat them kindly and enjoy watching the undulating stripes as they swerve their way through the water, in what is really a wonderful sight to behold.
Working our way back to the beginning we return to our most misunderstood animals of the marine world, and the beautiful Bamboo Shark (32). Their pattern, size, and shape makes them one of the ‘must sees’ by divers from around the world, and you can be lucky enough to spot them here.
We finish on a rather recent celebrity of the underwater world, featured on David Attenborough’s, Blue Planet 2, this rather terrifying predator is yet another elusive sea creature on our list, but perhaps it’s not one you want to be looking for either (at least, not with your fingers exposed!) The Bobbit Worm (33) is our final bucket list sea creature. With its terrifying jaws of death, this worm lurks in the sand and emerges to snap up its prey in one foul swoop of its jaws! Then down, down, down goes the fish, into the bobbit hole – another lesson as to why we shouldn’t be poking our fingers around in the reef or, the sand for that matter!
So there you have it, thirty-three of Komodo National Park’s must-see sea creatures! If you have any to add to the list, make sure you comment and let us know! Now, surely it’s time to pack your bags and go?
For more inquiries on the Komodo Liveaboard Trip, please do not hesitate to contact us on: firstname.lastname@example.org