swim-with-whale-sharks-in-maldives.-make-your-dream-come-true

Dreaming of swimming with whale sharks meanwhile holidaying in Maldives ? Your dream is about to come true with this complete guide dedicated to the sea giants.

Discover the magnificent creatures that whale sharks are, where you can meet them in Maldives and some of the best places to stay to be close to their hotspots.

You will love the ocean. Love Whale Sharks !

Enjoy some of the best snorkeling and swimming

with whale sharks in Maldives !

Maldives Whaleshark

Whale Shark : the World’s largest fish.

Weight up to 21 metric tons.

Length up to 18 meters / 59 feet ( the size of a truck ).

Endangered specie.

The Maldives : The Maldives are the only place in the world where whale shark aggregations occur on a year round basis.

Best Seasons : All year round and May to November depending on the atoll.

TOP 3 Best Locations : South Ari Atoll, Hanifaru Bay and Angafaru area in Baa Atoll.

Other ( secondary ) locations : ( occasional whale shark spotting ) : Faafu Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll, Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu.

The Dream : Over the last decade until mid-2021, a total of 8022 whale sharks have been encountered in South Ari Atoll.

whale shark photographed in maldives
3 whale sharks spotted in Baa Atoll by Amilla Maldives Resort & Residences

Dreamy Fact

Across the world there are approximately 20 known whale shark hotspots with a vast majority of them being seasonal aggregations. The Maldives are the only place in the world where aggregations occur on a year round basis.

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Swimming with whale sharks in Maldives. photo © Amilla Maldives

Whale Sharks, a Majestic and Gentle Sea Giants

Whale sharks are majestic and gentle sea creatures.

They are the largest known fish and can weigh up to over 20 tons and reach a length of a truck ( 18 meters / 59 feet ).

They are by far the largest living nonmammalian vertebrate and sole member of the genus Rhincodon and the only extant member of the family of the Elasmobranchii clade, a sub member of the Chondrichthyes, a class of cartilaginous fishes like sharks and rays.

Whale sharks have no teeth and cannot bite nor chew.

Despite the huge size of their mouth ( up to 1.5 m / 4 ft wide ) whale sharks can neither bite nor chew. They are filter feeders and have no teeth but armless gill rakers, a bristly structure made of cartilage that allows them to eat plankton and small nektonic prey like tiny shrimps’ and fishes by using their gills as a suction filter.

Whale shark mouth in maldives
Whale shark mouth. photo © Dhiguveli

As big and impressive whale sharks are, they pose no danger to people because they only eat plankton.

Whale sharks are one of three species of filter-feeding sharks with the basking shark and the megamouth Shark, 2 smaller species who live in colder waters than whale sharks who’s habitat is found in tropical and warm environment.

Whale shark VS Basking Shark VS Megamouth shark

Whale shark VS Basking Shark VS Megamouth shark
Whale shark VS Basking Shark VS Megamouth shark. Illustration © dreamingofmaldives

Highly migratory, they are difficult to follow. However, thanks to the development of ecotourism activities around the world, their biology, distribution and movements are now more studied in various places on the planet.

Whale sharks can migrate thousands of miles to different feeding grounds, but only at a slow swimming speed of around 5 kms / 3 miles per hour.

Whale Sharks are not whales !

Despite being called Whale Sharks they are NOT whales – whales are mammals but a filter-feeding shark, thus a fish.

Mammals VS Fishes

The Main differences

Mammals

i.e. : Whales

Whale is a mammal
Whale = mammal

Mammals, like humans and other land mammals, breathe air and nurse their young with milk a mong other charateristics.

Fishes

i.e : Sharks

whale Shark is a Shark is a Fish
Whale Shark = Shark = fish

Whale sharks are not mammals but belong to a group of cartilaginous fishes. It is a shark, thus a fish.


Whale Shark longevity and reproduction

Young whale shark in Dhigurah island, Maldives
Young whale shark in Dhigurah island, Maldives. photo ©MWSPR

It is estimated that whale sharks may live to over 100 years of age, reaching maturity at around 30 years.

Whale Sharks may live to over 100 years of age

They are thought to have a fast growth rate when very young, which then slows down, taking them a long time to reach maturity and adding to the vulnerability of this iconic species.

Furthermore, whale sharks reproduce very slowly because they are only capable of reproducing once they reach 10 years of age.

Whale Shark Global and Local Protection

Whale shark protection maldives
photo © MWSRP

Before being protected ( in the Maldives and in a few other countries ), they were hunted for their skin and liver oil – just as Manta rays.

This heavy killing ( let’s call it a slaughter seeing the methods used ) has caused a rapid and massive decrease of their population around the world.

Their decline has happened so fast. Whale shark fishing did not begin until the 1980s, less than three generations ago (one Whale Shark generation = 25 years ).

Thanks to some local regulations and initiatives and a few global initiatives fishing whale sharks is now almost entirely forbidden.

But if fishing is officially forbidden in most countries, whale sharks continues to die by being struck and killed by large vessels.

On a global scale whale sharks are now almost globally protected by being listed on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

In Maldives, they are protected by 2 actions :

– the creation of 3 whale shark sanctuaries by the Maldivian government and

– by a non-profit and private conservation programme called the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP).

Global scale : Whale Sharks are categorized in The Red List of Threatened Species

Whale sharks have been categorized as Endangered Species. Their slow reproduction, loss of habitat and risk of being killed by humans have put them in the ( long list of ) species that are threatened by extinction

To save whale sharks, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has put them on the Red List of Threatened Species, which

shows trends in overall extinction risk for species around the globe.

click to enlarge

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IUCN Red List of Threatened Specie

Whale Shark Data around the world

© IUCN

In 2022, the IUCN has listed more than 41,000 threatened species on our planet.

Locally : The Maldives Whale Shark Sanctuaries

The Maldives have 3 whale shark sanctuaries located in 2 atolls :

Baa Atoll, north Maldives, which has 2 hotspots : the famous Hanifaru Bay and a bit further, Angafaru area.

South Ari Atoll with the SAMPA for South Ari Marine Protected Area, which is the largest natural reserve in the Maldives.

SAMPA is one of the world’s most unique and significant sites for whale sharks.

These 3 Marine Protected Areas (MPA’s) were created in June 2009 by the government to ensure their continued presence in Maldives and to protect them from being killed by locals.

These sanctuaries attract thousands of tourists per year together with a massive amount of money that provides Maldivians with alternative revenues and encourages them to move away from harmful fishing practices.

Local : The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme or MWSPR is a non-profit organization and a precious actor in whale shark protection in the Maldives.

Based on Dhigurah Island, a paradisiacal island and a heaven for whale sharks and manta rays in South Ari Atoll, the conservation charity programme is dedicated to fostering community-focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives.

MWSRP proposes a volunteer programme as an assistant researcher. Fees for the participation serve as a donation for its sustainability.

swimming and snorkeling with whale shark in maldives

Free diving with a whale shark with Four Seasons Maldives at Kudaa Huraa

Snorkel and Swim with the biggest fish in Maldives

Weighing up to 30 tons and about the length of a truck ( 18 meters / 59 feet ), a whale shark swimming close to you is a breathtaking experience and a moment you will never forget.

Whale Shark Encounter Guidelines.

Before you go swimming with whale sharks you must respect a list of guidelines made by the MWSRP.

Here is the code of conduct to respect :

  • Most importantly, do not touch the shark. Sharks are not a tactile species and will most likely leave the encounter if you do touch it.
  • Keep a distance of 3 metres from the body and 4 metres from the caudal fin. If you are too close to the shark it may perceive you as a threat and leave the encounter. Putting a good distance between yourself and the shark gives it room to leave and change direction freely.
  • Do not obstruct the shark. Swimming in front of the shark may be tempting to get your photo of that big mouth, however this can cause the shark to become evasive and leave the encounter.
  • Stay at around 20 metres from the shark to avoid disturbance
  • Keep quiet. Enter the water from a seated position to reduce noise and when in the water keep noise to a minimum. Whale sharks have the biggest eardrum in the animal kingdom so they are bound to be sensitive to noisy commotion.
Volunteer swim with whale sharks with MWSRP Maldives
Volunteers measuring a whale shark for MWSRP

What are the best seasons to swim with Whale Sharks in Maldives ?

If you want to swim with whale sharks and don’t know which season is best, don’t worry, they can be seen all year round in South Ari Atoll and from May to October / November in Baa Atoll.

Remember : the Maldives is the only place in the world where such aggregations occur on a year round basis.

All year round in South Ari Atoll, THE Hotspot

South Ari Atoll Maldives
South Ari Atoll

South Ari Atoll is THE Whale Shark Hotspot. Studies show that the atoll seems to have the perfect conditions for the shark to live and grow : a massive presence of phytoplankton all year round and ideal stable temperatures for their needs to grow until their mature age which is around 30 years.

From May to October / November in Baa Atoll

Baa Atoll Maldives

In Baa Atoll whale sharks are, together with Manta rays, mostly sighted from May until October/November, in Hanifaru bay, one of the very few places in the world where whale sharks congregate to mate along

Their presence is due to winter monsoon currents that bring the plankton swarms towards the east of the atoll, due to the bay’s shape a massive amount goes right inside the small area, and gets trapped ( the bay is in a U shape ).

For more details : See the map of Hanifaru Bay here and Plankton details here.

Massive movements are also equally observed in the Angafaru area, unfortunately it is less documented.

Besides Whale Sharks, Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll has the largest known aggregation of manta rays in the world.

Manta Rays in Hanifaru Bay, BAA Atoll Maldives
Manta Rays in Hanifaru Bay, BAA Atoll Maldives. © Manta Trust

Occasionally in other Atolls without meeting point

All year round, but more occasionally, whale sharks have also been spotted in Faafu Atoll, Dhaalu Atoll, Thaa Atoll, Laamu Atoll, Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu Atolls, Southern Maldives, but you will need much more luck !

They cross these atolls when they follow plankton swarms, so chnaces to meet them are less. You will need to cross their paths, there is no meeting point.

Hereunder is a beautiful photo of a whale shark spotted in Faafu atoll around Filitheyo Island resort by the resort diving team.

Read more about Diving and Snorkeling at Filitheyo Island Resort

Whale shark spotting in Faafu Atoll, maldives at Filitheyo resort
Whale shark spotting in Faafu Atoll with Filitheyo Island Resort

The Top 3 Best locations to spot whale sharks in Maldives

The Maldives have 3 major whale shark hotspots located in 2 Atolls : SAMPA area located in South Ari Atoll and Hanifaru Bay + Angafaru area both located in Baa Atoll.

Here are these 3 locations in details :

spot Maldives Whale shark
spot me !

The number 1 : The natural reserve of SAMPA in South Ari Atoll

South Ari Atoll hosts the most important whale shark sanctuary of the Maldives called SAMPA, for South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area. SAMPA is the number 1 place to see and swim with whale sharks in Maldives with the highest re-sighting rate of any whale shark hotspot in the world.

South Ari Atoll is unique in the world as it is the only year round whale shark aggregation site of this kind.

South Ari Atoll is located in the southern part of Ari Atoll in the South Central region of the Maldives.

South Ari Atoll Location. Map

south ari atoll best atoll for whale shark spotting atoll map
South Ari Atoll location in Maldives. Map © Dreaming of Maldives

SAMPA area covers a broad strip of 42 km around the southern base of South Ari atoll and extends to 1 km from the shoreline.

The protected area extends from the shoreline and runs from the resort Conrad Maldives Rangali Island at its north western edge, round to the end of the local island of Dhigurah Island, a whale shark paradise at its north eastern extremity.

Photos of Whale Sharks spotted in South Ari Atoll
Whale shark Spotted in Conrad Maldives lagoon South Ari Atoll
Whale shark Spotted in Conrad Maldives lagoon. South Ari Atoll
Whale shark Spotted with LUX* South Ari. South Ari Atoll
Whale shark Spotted with LUX* South Ari. South Ari Atoll

Bordering the length of the delimited area, together with Conrad Rangali are also 3 other resorts : Sun Island, Holiday Island and LUX* South Ari Atoll plus 3 other local islands with Dhigurah : Dhidhdhoo, Maamigili ( also called Whale Shark Island and home to Maamigili airport ) and Fenfushi islands.

Read more about SAMPA : SAMPA or South Ari Marine Protected Area in Maldives, the world’s most unique and significant sites for whale sharks

According to Tamlin Jefferson, a Doctoral Candidate in Marine Science who came to South Ari Atoll to study this unique phenomenon :

“…contrary to the typical whale shark aggregations observed around the world, SAMPA whale sharks show extraordinary site fidelity, with a predictable year round population and no seasonal peak in aggregations….”

The area is so highly populated by the ocean giant that it is the home base of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) which carries out whale shark research and advocate for their conservation policy in the Maldives.

See also : Dhigurah Maldives, a paradisiacal island and a paradise for Whale Sharks and Mantas

The 2nd best place : Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll

Hanifaru Bay is located at the south east edge of Baa Atoll, north Maldives. Covering 1,200km² – barely the size of a football field, the small area is known to be one of the world’s top feeding hotspots for manta rays and to have one of the Maldives largest concentration of whale sharks after SAMPA.

Hanifaru Bay has the Maldives largest concentration of whale sharks after SAMPA.

Baa Atoll is located in north Maldives.

Baa Atoll Location. Map

baa atoll best atoll for whale shark spotting atoll map
Baa Atoll location in Maldives. Map © Dreaming of Maldives

Hanifaru Bay is the only place where manta rays and whale sharks aggregate in such unusually high numbers.

Along whale sharks you will also see a massive concentration of Manta rays who come in the bay to feast on this plankton soup. Hanifaru Bay is the World’s largest known aggregation of Manta Rays.

The bay sees a much larger number of mantas and whale sharks compared to other locations in the Maldives. They come to feed on the zooplankton that gets trapped here, making it an amazing spectacle if you become lucky enough to witness it.

Photos of Whale Sharks spotted in Baa Atoll
Whale Shark spotted by Kihaa Maldives at Hanifaru Bay. Baa Atoll
Whale Shark spotted by Kihaa Maldives at Hanifaru Bay. Baa Atoll
whale shark sighting at amilla resort maldives
Whale Shark spotted by Amilla Resort at Hanifaru Bay. Baa Atoll

During peak time at Hanifaru Bay, there could be hundreds of mantas cruising along with several whale sharks feeding there at the same time. This has led to international recognition and is being celebrated in major publications including National Geographic.

Read more about Hanifaru Bay : Everything you Need To Know About The Extraordinary Hanifaru Bay

The 3rd Best Place : Angafaru Area, Baa Atoll

Also located in Baa Atoll and adjacent to Hanifaru Bay is Angafaru dive site. Despite being frequented by the same whale sharks that are seen at Hanifaru, it is not as crowded as the famous bay.

The coral ring area doesn’t have the Hanifaru’s “trapping” U-shale system, thus mantas and sharks do not stay as much as in the bay. However, its reef system is directly associated with the unique dynamic water circulation system of Hanifaru bay, when south-west monsoons brings high amount of planktons followed by mantas and whale sharks who follow their swarms.

Angafaru shape VS hanifaru shape. Map

Angafaru shape VS hanifaru shape. Map
Angafaru shape VS Hanifaru shape. Map © Dreaming of Maldives

Dotted with very healthy and varied coral formations, the 404 hectare area is protected since June 2009. Not as impressive as Hanifaru, Angafaru welcomes, each season, several whale sharks and many manta rays. The area is rich in marine biodiversity and

Where to stay to swim with Whale Sharks in Maldives ?

South Ari Atoll and Baa Atoll both offer a wide range of accommodation for every budget and taste. To swim with whale sharks you will stay in a resort, a guest house, or onboard of a safari boat. The Maldives will spoil you with choices, whether you’re on a budget or an exigent traveler looking for a luxury holiday.

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If you stay in a luxury resort you will choose your vessel and experience : leave privately with your own guide and/or marine biologist onboard or in a small group during scheduled excursions.

South Ari Atoll

With massive whale shark aggregation all year round, South Ari is undoubtedly the best Maldives atoll to stay if you dream of swimming with the sea giants.

South Ari Atoll offers many resorts and amazing diving sites.

The best Resorts to stay in South Ari Atoll for Whale Sharks

There are 2 excellent resorts located at the heart of SAMPA : LUX* South Ari Atoll and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, both well known for their services.

you can swim with Whale sharks all year round in South Ari Atoll !

Number 1 : LUX* South Ari Atoll. Located at the heart of Maldives Whale Shark Sanctuary

LUX* South Ari Atoll best maldives resorts swim with whale sharks TOP 5 best resorts
LUX* South Ari Atoll

If you’re looking for a good resort in South Ari Atoll with the best access to whale shark hotspots, LUX* South Ari Atoll is the one.

Located is right in the SAMPA area, the island the closest to the whale shark sanctuary. Located close to the famous and beautiful Dhigurah island ( a local island with a prime access too – see further down for more information ), LUX* South Ari Atoll is a beautiful a five-star resort and a one-stop for both family and romantic getaways. Located right in the Marine Reserve, within 20 mins from their hotspot, the resort is a whale shark Paradise and the closest luxury property you will find in the area.

Read more : Swim With Whale Sharks And Mantas At LUX* South Ari Atoll

BOOK LUX* South Ari Atoll

LUX* South Ari Atoll Resort

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Conrad Maldives Rangali Island. Located in SAMPA area

Conrad Maldives Rangali best maldives resorts swim with whale sharks TOP 5 best resorts
Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is another great luxury resort to swim with whale sharks in Maldives. Aside from being an amazing luxury hotel, the Rangali is also located inside the SAMPA area, at its northern tip where whale shark spotting are frequent.

Conrad Maldives is one of the MWSRP oldest partner. Together they organize 3 hour snorkeling excursions several times per week called the Whale Shark Talk and Tour.

BOOK Conrad Maldives Rangali Island

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Other resorts in SAMPA area:

There are 2 other resorts in SAMPA : Sun Island and Radisson Blu Resort Maldives. Not as luxurious and dreamy as LUX* South Ari and Conrad, their prime locations in SAMPA will however make your whale shark dreams come true.

Look for the latest deals for Sun Island here and Radisson Blu Resort Maldives here with booking.com.

Sun Island south ari atoll whale shark best resort
Sun Island
Radisson Blu Resort Maldives south ari atoll whale shark best resort
Radisson Blu Resort Maldives

The best Local Islands in South Ari Atoll for Whale Sharks

The best local island to stay in in South Ari Atoll for whale sharks is undoubtedly Dhigurah Island where you will find an excellent choice of guest houses and 3* Hotels. You can live this Maldives dream for a lower budget than resorts with nights starting at around 80 USD in low season up to approximately 200 USD in high season.

The island hotels and guest houses listed below offer excellent services, good food quality, comfort, many activities and excellent diving services :

  • Bliss Dhigurah
  • Boutique Beach All Inclusive Diving Hotel
  • Dhiguveli Maldives
  • Grand Beach Dhigurah
  • Athiri Beach Maldives

Baa Atoll

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Swimming with a whale shark at Hanifaru. Spotted by Kihaa Maldives. © Mark Zaalberg / OCEAN DIMENSION

If you want to stay in Baa Atoll to swim with whales sharks AND manta rays, you should come between the months of May and November with a preference for July until September when the area sees the highest concentration of planktons.

The Best Resorts to stay in baa Atoll for Whale Sharks

There are several luxury resorts located close to Hanifaru and Angafaru.

But the closest of all is KIHAA MAldives, located at a mere 5 mns away from Hanifaru.

For Whale Sharks, come to Baa Atoll between the months of May and November with a preference for July until September

Number 1 : Kihaa Maldives, the closest resort to Hanifaru Bay

KIHAA Maldives closest resort to Hanifaru Bay
Kihaa Maldives and Hanifaru Bay. Aerial view. © Kihaa Maldives

KIHAA Maldives is uniquely positioned as the closest resort to Hanifaru Bay. Located at 4 km / 2.8 miles, the 5* Resort is right in front of the spot. You can even see it from the island shores.

Kihaa runs three trips per week to Hanifaru Bay and on-demand private excursions, both accompanied by the resort resident marine biologist, who is on-hand to offer their insight and expertise throughout.

BOOK Kihaa Maldives

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List of Resorts located to Hanifaru and Angafaru

map of the best resorts closest to hanifaru bay
Map of the Resorts close to Hanifaru bay. © Dreaming of Maldives based on Google Imagery

Discover all resorts : Resorts and Private Islands that are the closest to Hanifaru

Local Islands with Hotels & Guest Houses located close to Hanifaru

Spread over 4 local islands, there are about 20 guest houses located at a close reach to Hanifaru. It is the cheapest way to stay if you’re on a budget and Dream of Mantas !

Dharavandhoo, then is the small and beautiful Dhonfanu island with 1 guest house, Maalhos, at approximately 15 minutes away from the bay and finally, further away, Eydhafushi Island, Baa capital island.

Dharavandhoo, Maalhos and Eydhafushi offer several PADI dive centers.

Dharavandhoo, which is also home to the atoll airport, is located right besides Hanifaru Bay and offers the largest amount of guest houses and hotels among all.

Current deals around Hanifaru Bay

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References :

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