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14 idyllic places to swim with Whale Sharks

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It’s International Whale Shark Day today, 30th August – a day dedicated to celebrating the biggest fish in the ocean. These much-loved gentle giants are amazing to swim with and you can find them at top diving and snorkeling destinations around the world. Here is our round up of 14 idyllic places to swim with whale sharks.

1) Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia

This famous dive destination in Raja Ampat is renowned for the unique relationship between the whale sharks and fishermen that live there. The fishermen give fish to the whale sharks to bring luck and there are numerous resident whale sharks there year-round. The sharks are used to people in the water, meaning you can swim alongside them to your heart’s content.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Both.

Experience needed: Intermediate if you plan to enjoy the other scuba diving highlights of Cenderawasih Bay.

When to go: July to September

2) Djibouti

This little-known dive destination at the southwestern tip of the Red Sea is crowd-free and offers the chance to dive with juvenile whale sharks. Djibouti’s rich waters attract whale sharks in numbers to the coastline each year, where divers and snorkelers commonly see them.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Both, though mostly snorkeling excursions.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: Whale sharks can be seen all year, though September, October and February offer the best conditions for peak numbers.

3) Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Isla Mujeres, a picture-perfect island in the Caribbean Sea, is Mexico’s best-known whale shark diving hotspot and has one of the highest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. Various locals operators will take you snorkeling with the sharks, and you can enjoy some of Mexico’s best diving and snorkeling at nearby Cancun and Cozumel.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: May to September. July and August are peak whale shark season.

4) Socorro Islands, Mexico

The remote Socorro Islands off the coast of Mexico take time to get to, but they host more ocean giants than you could ever hope to see, including whale sharks, humpback whales, giant Pacific manta rays and bottlenose dolphins. This is Mexico’s premier liveaboard diving destination and doesn’t disappoint for marine megafauna and whale shark fans.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Scuba dive.

Experience needed: Intermediate and experienced divers.

When to go: November and December for whale sharks.

5) The Maldives

Diving in the Maldives is synonymous with whale sharks and they are found at this idyllic destination all year. South Ari Atoll’s waters are busy with juvenile whale sharks, though Huvadhoo and Thaa atolls are also great places to snorkel and dive with these spotty giants.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Both.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: All year.

6) Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Hundreds of whale sharks gather at Ningaloo Reef each year, making it Australia’s prime destination for snorkeling with whale sharks. As well as being a UNESCO World Heritage area with stunning dive sites and zero crowds, the Ningaloo Coast also has seasonal sharks, humpback whales, mantas and sea turtles in abundance.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: March to June for whale sharks.

7) Thailand

If you want an affordable dive destination with the chance to see whale sharks, go diving in Thailand. Whether you dive at world-famous Richelieu Rock in the Andaman Sea or explore around the Gulf of Thailand’s many islands, there are numerous world-class dive sites and a good chance you will see whale sharks.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Scuba dive.

Experience needed: There are dives for all experience levels in Thailand.

When to go: February to April for whale shark season at Richelieu Rock.

8) Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Known as the ‘Little Galapagos’, Cocos Island in Costa Rica has fantastic shark diving with huge schools of hammerheads. This incredible island’s rich waters also host whale sharks, abundant manta rays, reef sharks and dolphins.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Scuba dive.

Experience needed: Intermediate and experienced divers.

When to go: June to November for whale sharks.

9) Mafia, Tanzania

Mafia Island in Tanzania has one of the longest whale shark seasons globally and is home to more than 180 resident whale sharks. The whale sharks are seen year-round and feed in the shallow waters off the western side of Mafia Island, making it easy to go swimming with them.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: October to March for whale sharks.

10) Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Whale sharks roam the plankton-rich waters off Tofo Beach in Mozambique all year long. As many as 50 whale sharks can be seen at any one time and there are numerous mantas, dolphins and sea turtles to find at this picture-perfect beach destination. Way off the beaten track, this is a hidden whale shark hotspot.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: October to March for whale sharks.

11) The Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Galapagos diving is paradise for nature fans and offers endless highlights above and below the water line, including encounters with whale sharks. Wolf and Darwin Islands are the best places to dive with whale sharks, where you will find them at the surface and at depth.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Scuba dive.

Experience needed: Intermediate and experienced divers.

When to go: June to October for whale sharks.

12) Seychelles

If you want to combine whale sharks encounters with sailing calm seas, coral reef diving and water sports, visit the Seychelles. These stunning islands are perfect for families, honeymooners and adventurous souls alike, and have plenty of whale sharks off Mahé Island.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: October for whale sharks.

13) Utila, Honduras

Sitting within the expansive Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Utila’s waters are teeming with tropical fish life and host whale sharks all year. This tiny island is famous as the Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean and offers a range of whale shark swimming safaris.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: Year-round, with peak whale shark season from March to April.

14) Nosy Be, Madagascar

Madagascar is a relatively new whale shark hotspot that came to the world’s attention in 2018, when researchers discovered juvenile whale sharks swim to Madagascar to feed. These charming sharks are seen primarily around the small island of Nosy Be, in northwest Madagascar.

Snorkel or scuba dive? Snorkel.

Experience needed: All experience levels.

When to go: September and December for whale sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.

Scuba Schools International (SSI) is the largest professional business-based training agency in the world. For over 50 years now, SSI has provided the ultimate training experience for millions of certified divers, not only in Recreational Scuba, but in every training category: Freediving, Extended Range, Rebreather Diving, Mermaid, Swim and Lifeguard.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Creature Feature: Oceanic Manta Ray

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In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.

This month our Creature Feature is from guest writer – Yolanda Evans. 17-year old Yolanda has been passionate about sharks all her life, and this month she explores the world of the Oceanic Manta Ray…

The graceful Oceanic Manta Ray dances their way through the blue waters with a wingspan of 7 metres which can reach a maximum of 9 metres, making them the biggest ray in the world. These manta’s have a circumglobal distribution and are found in temperate, tropical, and subtropical. They have a deep black dorsal side with a white T marking on their back and the ventral side is white with black freckles. However, they can be easily confused with Reef Manta’s, but the two main differentiating features (despite their size) is that the white markings on the Reef Manata make a Y shape and there are no freckles on their underside.

Recognisable by the two mouth parts known as the cephalic lobes: extensions of their massive pectoral fins that are used for feeding, helping the ray scoop mouthfuls of plankton. They must eat 20-30 kg of plankton a day, which is only about 2% of their total body weight.

Oceanic Manta’s can have up to 4000 tiny teeth but they don’t use these for feeding, they use them for when they are mating as the males have to hold themselves onto the females! The cephalic lobes can either be flexed out-seen when they are feeding, or curled up for spiral swimming and doing underwater flips!

Having the largest brain to body ratio of any cold-blooded fish, it is thought that they are able to pass the mirror test, showing that they have self-awareness! They are also capable of creating mental maps using smells and environmental barings, helping on their migrations. 

Gatherings of these manta’s are rare, but when they come together it is an elegant marine ballet! A group of manta’s, known as a squadron, typically gather for two main reasons: mating and feeding. Manta’s will do somersaults in areas rich in prey to maximise their intake of prey. They will also participate in chain-feeding, this is when each manta follows the other in a circle to create a whirlpool which traps their prey inside! 

Cleaning and maintenance is very important to these fish as they will undergo special migrations to coral reefs where Cleaner fish come and groom off parasites and dead skin. These cleaning stations are so important to these rays that they will go back to the same spot for many years!

Out of all elasmobranchs the Giant Manta has one of the slowest reproduction rates, only producing one pup every two to three years and can be pregnant for 12-13 months! However, due to commercial fishing and bycatch, they cannot keep up with the extortionate rate that their populations are decreasing by. This has led to the Oceanic Manta Ray to be listed as endangered by the IUCN. Manta’s are targeted for their gill rakers by traditional medicines that can reach up to $400 USD per kg. 

Not only are Oceanic Manta’s threatened by fishing, but also by pollution in the oceans. Microplastics and heavy metals accumulate in their tissues. This can unfortunately lead to serious illnesses like cancers.

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mobula birostris

FAMILY:  Mobulidae

MAXIMUM WINGSPAN: 8.8m

DIET: Filter feeds for plankton, but also consumes deep water fish

DISTRIBUTION: Widespread distribution in tropical and temperate waters worldwide

HABITAT: Ocean-going. Surface to deep waters – 1,000m.

CONSERVATION STATUS:

Images: Frogfish Photography

For more amazing facts about sharks and what you can do to help the Shark Trust protect them visit the Shark Trust website by clicking here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust UK about the Big Shark Pledge.

The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.

Find out more at: www.bigsharkpledge.org and www.sharktrust.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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