Seven Best Places for Diving with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, and encounters with them are at the top of many divers’ and snorkellers’ bucket lists. These gentle giants are filter feeders and can be found in all tropical oceans. Their entrancing patterns are unique to each shark and used to identify individuals. We have rounded up our favourite places to swim with these fascinating creatures – although we must caveat that these are snorkelling experiences not diving, as scuba diving can distress the sharks.
Mafia Island, Tanzania
This is without a doubt our favourite place for responsible whale shark encounters. Conservation project, Kitu Kiblu, leads small groups out to swim with whale sharks during the season when the whale sharks congregate in large numbers at the mouth of the Rufiji River to scoop up the plankton that floods the sea at this time of year (October-March). Here you can quietly slip into the water and get up close with these majestic animals for unforgettable encounters. A detailed briefing is delivered to swimmers, teaching them how to interact responsibly and safely with the ocean’s largest fish.
Thaa Atoll, Maldives
Maamigili in the South Ari Atoll is one of the most famous dive sites in the world for encounters with whale sharks, but we actually find this to be too crowded, and prefer to recommend venturing south to Thaa Atoll where there is just one resort, COMO Maalifushi, which is very special indeed! COMO arrange whale shark snorkelling trips at night time, limited to six snorkellers in the water and six viewing the sharks from the boat. They have established a great relationship with local fishermen who call the resort to notify them of sightings of the whale sharks feeding at the surface on small organisms attracted by the large lights used for night fishing. Guests can then slide into the water alongside the gaping maws of the feeding giants, and spend an hour watching them in a feeding frenzy!
Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia
This is one of the few destinations in the world where one can go scuba diving with whale sharks. Accessible only by liveaboard, Kwatisore Bay is the hot spot where the sharks gather to scoop up leftovers from local fishermen. Divers here can spend as long as they want in the water and this makes it a particularly excellent choice for keen photographers looking to get the perfect whale shark shot.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The islands of Wolf and Darwin in the Galapagos are shrouded in mystery and intrigue when it comes to whale sharks, as this is where scientists believe the giants gather to give birth to their young. Many pregnant females are spotted here every year, the size of double-decker buses and some of the largest individuals ever recorded, however, nobody has ever seen a whale shark give birth. Liveaboard trips to this remote island chain at the right time of year will reward adventurous divers with the chance to get up close to these vast creatures.
Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Hailed a mini Galapagos, Cocos Island is another fantastic spot to encounter whale sharks, as they frequent these waters in what is now a marine-protected corridor for some of the oceans’ largest pelagic species. Uniquely, guests on board the Argo liveaboard can see things from a different perspective by descending in a deep sea submersible.
Ningaloo Reef, Australia
From March to July, large numbers of whale sharks congregate after the full moon in the nutrient-rich waters of Coral Bay and this makes for a fantastic opportunity to swim with them. Spotter planes head out to mark the location of whale sharks and guests head out to spend the day snorkelling with the whale sharks. Many large pelagic species can be spotted in these waters including humpback wales and manta rays.
Socorro, Revillagigedo, Mexico
The volcanic islands of the Revillagigedo Archipelago welcome whale sharks from May to December. Here in Socorro they are frequently accompanied by other large pelagic species, making this a big hitter for big fish enthusiasts. There are a handful of excellent liveaboards operating in this region, and this is another destination where visitors are in with a good chance of actually scuba diving with the whale sharks.