All avid divers have a list of fishes they wish to encounter in their diving bucket lists. Without a doubt, one that tops this list is the gentle giant of the ocean – the “whale shark”.
In recent years, the buzz has it that Maldives is the place for year round sighting of whales sharks. So it is not surprising that divers who book this once in a life time dive vacation in the Maldives, comes with high expectation to see the beautiful whale sharks.
There are plenty of experienced scuba divers who have not yet had the privilege of experiencing the presence of this majestic beast of the ocean. Whereas, a number of novice divers have gotten lucky. Many dive operators attempt at convincing and guaranteeing this majestic sighting yet; it takes more then this albeit luck plays a huge role too.
Even though these giant whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean (as the name indicates of course), attempting to encounter these giant whale sharks may be equivalent to looking for a needle in a haystack. It is crucial to understand their behavior well.
A fully-grown whale shark may be on average 33 to 40 ft in size. This is roughly equivalent to the size of a typical bus. Despite being enormous, they tend to feed on small animals such as planktons and smaller fishes along the way. The colossal whale sharks are seen year around in certain sights in the Maldives.
Whale Shark Diet how it influences Migration
Whale sharks are known to be a migratory fish depending on season. They spend most of their lives wandering the great ocean in search of planktons. As per their nomadic background, they tend to drift in tropical and warm seas of the surrounding atolls and reef regions - with temperatures ranging from 21 to 25°C. They have a tendency to migrate by crossing continents for the nutrient-rich waters with planktons.
Whale Shark expedition in Maldives & Sighting
There are many types of holiday you can book and anticipate the majestic giant whale shark experience. With the relative knowledge of their behaviour and the migratory season, we can guide you with regards to the timing and location of the whale shark appearance. Once again, luck does play a role but our experienced consultants can definitely improve the chances of the sighting.
One thing for sure is that the best way to experience this is by hopping on to a liveaboard dive tour in the Maldives. This will be the highest possibility of seeing this majestic whale shark.
A 7-night tour on the liveboard is perfectly adequate to ensure this encounter and the chances are much higher than staying on an island-based hotel.
If you are an enthusiastic diver looking to have this once in a life time experience in the Maldives – a liveabord dive expenditure will be the best choice.
The bonus of doing a dive tour on a liveabord is that they have special dive routes which include far North atolls that fully concentrates on whale shark & manta expeditions. These routes are off the main routes and at times can be of two weeks duration.
Listed below are some of the famous sights where we encounter whale sharks in the Maldives:
A)Maamigili Area (South Ari Atoll) – Included in 7-night package
B)Hanni Faru Goni or Bay (Baa Atoll)
A)Maamigili Area (South Ari Atoll)
South Ari Atoll has been specially recognized to be one of the best atolls in Maldives for diving due to the diversity of fish and corals in the region. Without a doubt, the atoll is well known for whale shark encounter throughout the 365 days in the year.
Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, the location may change depending on the season. During the western monsoon season which falls between the months of June to October, the chances of encountering a whale shark is more likely from the south east end of the atoll. Conversely, once the monsoon ends and the wind and currents project from the north eastern and east side, the majestic whale sharks may be encountered from the south western reefs of the atoll (mainly Maamigili area).
This continues through the months from November to April the following year. Again, a whale shark sighting can be challenging depending on the changes of the moon calendar, water current, water tide – all affecting the predicted location which can be easily judged by an experienced consultant. Nevertheless, the whale shark sighting is extremely high is the south of Ari atoll - all year round. A very high percent has been recorded.
Of course, apart from the sighting of this majestic creature, there is high possibility of viewing the lying white tip shark and the leopard shark that may be right at the bottom of the seabed. Turtles cab also be found amongst the reef munching on spongy corals. From enormous to tiny or even, micro animals are frequently found on the reef. Let’s also not forget the common resident around, our tentacle friends - octopuses.
Photo credit: Julia Yaber
B)Hanni Faru Goni or Bay (Baa Atoll)
This extremely popular dive site is located between the mid-eastern side of the atoll and the northern reef front of an inhabited island named Daravando.
This is where one can experience the spectacular sightings of the gathering of hundreds of manta rays and whale sharks for plankton feeding.
Year by year the place becomes well known – which has resulted in a bit of over crowding by dive liveaboards as well as divers and snorkelers in their dive boats. However, thanks to a government initiation to mark the site as a biopsy reserve and protected site, the crowd of enthusiastic divers entering the reef ring has been controlled. Now this area is allowed just for snorkelers as it is a naturally formed beautiful small reef ring or a reef bay.
The rules have been granted for the security of snorkelers to get a ticket from atoll council before entering Hanni Faru Bay.
Hanni Faru Bay is located in the mid-eastern side of Baa atoll forming a narrow “lane” on the south side of a huge atoll reef. This is a small natural pool of approximately 50 by 150 meters. The 3 side of the reef ring is very shallow (<2 meters) except the entrance on the western side which has a depth of 3 to 4 meters.
As one keeps entering this “lane” into the bay, it gradually gets deeper in a “slope” fashion. The midway of the bay that is supposed to be the deepest part of the bay is around 14 to 16 meters.
The entire bay is covered by a sandy bottom of honey and finger corals blocks. The anthias, glass fishes, krills and cleaner wrasses are fully covered in clouds?
The south west drift tends to being in a quite a number of of plankton which essentially makes a pool a soup of planktons – the perfect dish for our friends the manta rays and whale sharks.
Hundreds of manta rays and whale sharks gets together here for feast, once again, depending on the tide n flow direction of the water current.
In summary, the most promising period for a whale shark sighting is definitely the monsoon season (July to October). Nevertheless, the earlier weeks of November have also proven to be lucky for some avid underwater fans.
Hanni Faru Bay had broken all the challenges of manta rays cleaning station through out the world n took top on the list. This has been documented by the “National Geography” channel .
Interaction with whale sharks
There are some basic rules that needs to be adhered to when encountering whale sharks – regardless of diving or snorkeling, so as to ensure they are unharmed. Here are some pointers:
Keep a distance of at least 20 metres away from the whale shark (Strongly advised to keep a good distance so as not to disturb it and again, strongly advised against touching the gentle whale sharks).
Divers/Snorkelers should always be dropped in front of the whale shark.
No chasing of the whale sharks.
No obstructing of whale sharks’ path.
No underwater scooters allowed while snorkeling.
Thankfully, whale sharks are protected species in the Maldives and there is an NGO dedicated in whale shark research programs (MWRSP) whose key role is to researching more on this vulnerable species and advocating for its sound conservation policy in the Maldives.