Magic is real. Not convinced? An encounter with the fantastic gentle giants may persuade you otherwise.
Since the 1800s, natural scientists have reported sightings of a fish so strange they couldn’t quite believe it. An unusually large shark, many said, roamed the treacherous waters. Andrew Smith, a British zoologist, first described the whale shark and gave its scientific name ‘Rhincodon typus’. Long before their ‘scientific’ discovery, local fishing communities in the Maldives fished whale sharks for decades for their liver oils. The Maldivian government banned fishing whale sharks in June 1995.
Since then, the Maldives has been home and haven to hundreds of fehurihi (whale sharks). With its iconic crystal clear turquoise waters and a long list of protected marine areas, the Maldives is one of the best destinations for an encounter with whale sharks. However, an encounter is not all that you will gain from this experience. Instead, we wish to impart a sense of awe, wonder, and a responsibility to treat the gentle giants with the utmost respect, care, and love. These are some of the best spots for an encounter with the gentle giants.
Note: Before you jump into the water for an encounter with whale sharks, follow the following code of conduct created by the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP):
- Do not touch the whale shark.
- Keep 3-4 metres distance
- Do not obstruct the whale sharks path
- Do not swim on top of the whale shark
- No Flash Photography
- Reduce Noise
South Ari Marine Park, South Ari Atoll
How far from Malé? 82km
Best time? August-November
Worth it? Absolutely
Established as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) by the Maldivian government in 2009, the marine park is one of the undisputed hotspots for whale shark spotting in the Maldives. South Ari Marine Park is incredibly unique as it is the only year around whale shark aggregation site of its kind in the world. MWSRP believes that the marine park serves as a secondary nursery to mostly juvenile male individuals. With its nutrient-rich waters and warm temperatures, the South Ari marine park is perhaps the closest that the whale sharks have to a ‘home’.
While whale sharks are found all year round, the highest congregations are observed between August and November. Four local islands face the marine park; Dhigurah, Dhidhdhoo, Maamigili, and Fenfushi. The local islands are joined by four luxury resorts: LUX* South Ari Atoll, Holiday Island, Sun Island and Conrad Rangali.
Hanifaru Bay, Baa Atoll
How far from Malé? 118km
Best time? May - November
Worth it? Definitely
The world-famous UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and Marine Protected Area, Hanifaru Bay, is a sanctuary for marine life in Baa Atoll. Most popularly known as a haven for manta rays, The 1300 metres long funnel traps concentrations of plankton between May to November. Thus, a frantic feeding frenzy occurs during this time. One can swim with hundreds of manta rays during the frenzy. It might be the world’s largest feeding station of its kind. Fewer people are aware that the endearing whale sharks also visit the bay to feed on the plankton-rich waters.
Strict rules and regulations are in place to protect the Bay and the wildlife that passes through. There is a limit on the number of boats that can visit the Bay, and there are special rules that the boats must follow. To reduce the impact on marine life, tourists are no longer allowed to dive in the bay. Instead, don a snorkel and a mask, and watch the wonders from a distance. Snorkelers must keep a radius of 3 metres from the whale shark's front and 4 metres from its tail. Even though we call them gentle giants, a whack from its large tail is enough to knock a human being unconscious. Always swim alongside the whale shark while maintaining a healthy distance, and never attempt to directly approach the animal from the front or cross its path.
Hanifaru Bay is a marvel. A haven where the majestic mantas meet gentle giants.
Several world-class luxurious resorts are located in Baa Atoll such as Soneva Fushi, Amilla Fushi, Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas, Finolhu, Royal Island Resort and Spa, and The Westin Maldives Miriandhoo Resort. Several of the most popular local islands include Fulhadhoo, Fehendhoo and Ghoidhoo. Resorts and guest houses will provide excursions to Hanifaru bay and will be trained on the rules, regulations, and guidelines.
How far from Malé? 497km
Best time? December - March
Worth it? Undoubtedly
Rightfully called one of the most beautiful islands in the Maldives, Fuvahmulah is a beauty to behold. Infused with charm and imbued with beauty, Fuvahmulah boasts wetlands, mangrove forests, unique beaches, phenomenal waves, and some of the best diving spots in the world.
Although famous for its unusually large congregations of tiger sharks, the waters of Fuvahmulah are no strangers to whale sharks as well as black oceanic manta rays. The best time to encounter whale sharks is between December and March, with August noted as providing the highest probability of an encounter. Unlike the young male juveniles in South Ari Atoll, one finds mostly large female sharks averaging 8 metres in length in Fuvahmulah.
Stay at a local guest house in Fuvahmulah for the full cultural experience. Kayak in the mangrove lakes, dive with tiger sharks, have a beach day on the famous ‘Thoondo’ beach, take a mud bath, and fall in love with the island of Fuvahmulah.