Whale sharks are the biggest fish of the ocean and the south of Ari Atoll, in the Maldives, is a great place to dive and snorkel with this breathtaking creature.
About whale sharks
Whale sharks are filter feeding sharks that can reach up to 12 meters in length and 20 tons in weight. Whale sharks live mainly in tropical and warm seas, and have been spotted all around the world. They are pelagic fish that can dive deeper than 1.000 meters.
Whale shark diet
As one of only three known filter feeding shark species, whale sharks feed mainly on plankton but there are also records of them eating schools of small fish, clouds of eggs, small squid and vertebrates.
Whale shark reproduction
Whale sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the eggs remain in the body of the female sharks. The young sharks are born between 40 to 60 centimetres in length. Whale sharks reach sexual maturity at around 30 years old, and their lifespan is estimated to be between 70 and 100 years.
Whale sharks in the Maldives
The whale sharks that you can find in the Maldives are rather small ones, measuring on average between 4 and 8 meters. The best places to dive with them is the south of Ari Atoll, around Sun Island and Rangali.
The southern part of Sun Island’s reef is right on the Indian Ocean and it’s plateau is one of the best places to spot whale sharks. It’s depth ranges between 5 and 10 meters making it easy to spot these big fishes.
Rangali Island and its reefs offer a good chance to meet both mantas and whale sharks. It’s a great backup plan if you don’t find any in Sun Island.
When to spot whale sharks
You can see this magnificent creature all year round, at any time and on any given day, however luck plays a big role. Just in the case you’re passionate about statistics, you’re more likely to see a whale shark:
- In November, December and May.
- The week building up to the full moon.
- 3 to 5 hours before high tide.
Diving and snorkeling with whale sharks
When you go diving or snorkeling with whale sharks you should observe some basic rules to make sure you don’t bother this creature.
On the boat
- Stay at least at 20 meters away from the shark.
- Sail no faster than 2 knots per hour within 50 meters from the shark.
- Sail no faster than 10 knots per hour within 1 kilometer from the shark.
- Drop the divers and snorkelers off in front of the shark enabling it to swim towards the divers, rather than having them chase it.
In the water
- Swim at least 3 meters away from the body.
- Swim at least 4 meters away from the tail.
- Don’t touch the shark.
- Don’t use underwater scooters.
- Don’t swim in front of it or obstruct it.
- Take pictures without flash.
In the Maldives there is a admirable research program carried on by the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program to find out more about whale sharks. They identify the sharks by looking at their spot pattern which is unique to every individual, like a human fingerprint. Scientists agree the best ‘spot’ to identify a shark is just behind the gills.
It’s now been several months that we’ve been spotting these magnificent sharks every week and at every encounter the emotion is still the same. Have you ever seen a whale shark here in the Maldives or somewhere else? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!