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Where To Dive With Whale Sharks

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Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the history of planet earth!

They can grow up to 18 meters long. You won’t believe how huge they are until you’re in the water, diving or swimming right next to them.

They’re the BFGs of the ocean – which is exactly why they’re at the top of every scuba diver’s bucket list.

Read on to hear about the best places to dive (and swim!) with Whale sharks.

Diving with a whale shark from above

Diving With Whale Sharks In Belize

If you cruise over to the Southern Barrier Reef in Belize from March to June you will have the best chance of seeing Whale sharks. This is during the over 20 different fish spawning events and the Whale sharks mass here to feed on the eggs of the Black or Cubera snappers specifically.

The best places to dive with Whale sharks are at Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR) off the coast of Placencia. The Elbow near Placencia is where the Whale sharks will approach boats, snorkelers, and divers if they feel comfortable.

The rules are strict to help the preservation of these magnificent sharks and you must follow these below. This is common around the world at most protected marine parks and they all will have similar rules. Make sure you know them before entering the water as there could be a large fine if you don’t follow them. If your guide breaks these rules don’t be afraid to report them confidentially.

  • All Whale shark tour guides must hold a valid tour guide license
  • Only 8 divers per dive master
  • Boats should approach Whale sharks at idle speed.
  • Boats should remain at least 50 feet (15 M) away from the animal
  • Get in the water) from the Whale shark.
  • Boats should remain 196 feet (60 M) away from each other if there are snorkelers/divers in the water.
  • When the Whale sharks have gone all snorkelers/divers return to the boat immediately.

Diving With Whale Sharks In The Philippines

The Philippines like Thailand is pretty random when seeing Whale sharks. Over a thousand different Whale sharks have been identified in the Philippines which is the third most dense population in the world. I lived in Panglao, Philippines and they would come around randomly stay for a few days then leave. I have seen them a few times at different times of year, depths, and times of the day.

Though in Honda Bay in Palawan is not only an epic dive site but a place to dive with Whale sharks from April to October. Tubbataha Reef is also known for congregating Whale sharks and liveaboards at different times of the year. Southern Leyte again you will have an elevated chance of sighting them but it is not guaranteed.

While there is only one place that guarantees Whale sharks it is very controversial and not recommended by most. Oslob has them year around and you can swim them but that is your choice here are the main concerns with feeding them at Oslob.

  • Malnutrition- They only feed them krill losing out on key nutrients in their natural diet.
  • Sickness/ Injury-  Whale sharks have learned to associate boats and people with food and now approach them. Boat propellers can harm the sharks coming too close and you will see the scars on them. Touching the sharks also removes the mucous layer protecting them against infections.
  • Breeding- Staying in one place changes natural migration and breeding patterns which decreases the chances of mating and reproducing.
  • Overfishing- They have to catch the krill to bait the sharks.

Diving With Whale Sharks In Honduras

Diving with whale shark near the ocean surface

Utila is the Koh Tao of Central America for the reason that while Europeans and Australians head to Thailand or Indonesia to enjoy cheap diving, American and Canadian divers are lucky to have direct flights to Honduras. Utila is also known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the Caribbean” and the reputation of Utila with Whale shark sightings is pretty good.

The best times to get a chance to see these creatures are between March and April or September and December, but it is you can spot them all year long. Whale Sharks are usually solitary common for three or more Whale Sharks to be sighted on the same day near the Northern shores of Utila.

One great thing about Utila is that it is home to the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre (WSORC), the only research organization given a research permit to study Whale sharks in the country by the Honduran Environmental Department. You can help out by photographing them and sending in the pictures as well.

Diving With Whale Sharks In The Galapagos

The Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most famous places to go scuba diving. They are also home to the largest congregations of Whale sharks in the world. Three ocean currents intersect around the islands, bringing food for the Whale shark. The best time of year to visit is from June to December during their dry season and you will need a liveaboard.

Take a liveaboard to Darwin and Wolf Islands for the great chances of an encounter. Few places in the world allow you to dive with Whale sharks, making Wolf and Darwin Islands in the Galapagos a top must-do for many divers. In addition to that diving with these incredible marine animals, there are tons of other sharks, including schooling hammerheads as well and they are year around. While the other sharks hang around all year, Whale shark season is generally June to December.

Diving With Whale Sharks In Indonesia

Here are four places that will also give you a great chance to see Whale sharks in Indonesia

  • Cenderawasih Bay in the Northern Province of West Papua – This could be the best in Indonesia to be able to find them. There are a lot of fishing platforms called ‘bagans’ that attract the Whale sharks who come but the issue is that they can get stuck in the fishing nets!
  • Talisayan Derawan in East Kalimantan – With its clear waters, where you can swim or dive with these. This is again a place where fishermen begin their day fishing and it attracts the Whale sharks. The best time to go is when the south winds are blowing during the summer months, which are around June to September.
  • Saleh Bay in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara – This site is pretty easy to reach to see Whale sharks. It also offers a sight into amazing marine life for diving and snorkeling alike. They have Whale shark conservation tourism at Labuan Jambu, a village near the bay, but I do not know much about it and would check to see if it is sustainable and does not harm the Whales.
  • Botubarani in Gorontalo – Whale sharks can also be seen around the month of June but this is a short period and not a great bet if you are strapped for time.

Diving With Whale Sharks In The Maldives

South Ari Atoll is a great place to visit and is a marine protected area with year-round diving and snorkeling which provide an excellent chance for sighting Whale sharks.

The area around Sun Island, especially the southern part of its reef is best suited for spotting them since the depth is only between 5 to 10 meters. The other area near the reefs of Rangali Island can be seen as well as Manta rays.

Hanifaru Bay is an uninhabited island in Baa Atoll and is a great option for those traveling to the Maldives during the wet season.

The rainy season will ensure massive plankton that will build up and bring in the Whale sharks and the Manta rays.

The Whale Sharks are more common in the narrow part of Hanifaru Bay and it is probably the world’s largest known feeding station for them.

The Central Atolls are the best from October to April. Hanifaru Bay rocks from July to October. the Deep South from January to March. On the western side from May to December.

There is a great app called The Whale Shark Network Maldives app that you can download and track the on.

The Maldives is one of the best places in the world to encounter these gentle giants. Check out these liveaboards and visit various parts of the Maldives to align with the Whale shark seasons.

Diving With Whale Sharks In Thailand

The Similan Islands in Thailand are the best place to scuba dive with Whale sharks from February to April. There are also massive Manta rays! While it can get pretty touristy, the ocean life is incredible here, and some Thai liveaboards give you a great opportunity to explore the more remote islands.

While Whale shark diving in Thailand has always been up and down due to overfishing, Whale sharks in Thai waters have been increasing now for several years. April is the best month when Whale shark spottings have been the highest. I have even seen them in Koh Lipe on the Western side of Thailand. I have had friends see them as well in Koh Tao and other random areas.

If you take a liveaboard tour for spotting a Whale shark spotting about that is from October to the latest in May.

Swimming With Whale Sharks In Australia

Swimming with whale sharks in Australia

Australia’s Coral Coast is world-famous for swimming with Whale sharks. Every year, Whale sharks congregate in the masses from the end of February until sometimes as late as October.

The Whale sharks gather to feed on the plankton and krill attracted to the coral spawnings after the full moons in March and April every year.

There are strict rules in place by the Department of Parks and Wildlife ensuring the conservation of this amazing species.

While scuba diving isn’t permitted, the snorkeling experience is incomparable to other parts of the world! Plus, the operators work with planes that are spotting the big spotty fish for your best chances of an intimate encounter.

Visit the Ningaloo Reef from Exmouth for the best experiences with Whale sharks.

How to Interact With Whale Sharks

This specie as with most species of shark is not a “man-eater”. They are quite gentle and can be playful at times. They do swim close sometimes if they are fed but don’t touch them and keep your distance. I have gone over in the section above about Oslob in the Philipines on why you should not feed or touch them.

What Do They Eat

They are one of only three species of sharks that are filter feeders. Whale sharks eat tiny animals including zooplankton, shrimps, jellyfish, small bait fish, fish eggs, and squids. They feed by filtering large amounts of water across their gills while swimming.

Life Span and Reproduction

Like many sharks, Whale sharks grow very slowly and mature late in life. Scientists believe Whale sharks can live up to 100 years or more. They believe males appear to reach sexual maturity at about 25 to 30 years old. Young sharks are called pups, develop in egg cases, and are born alive.

Whale Shark Conservation

With the ability to travel people are now seeing Whale sharks and want to keep them alive. Others are realizing that they are worth more alive than dead so countries like Indonesia, the Maldives, Honduras, the Philippines, and India have passed laws to protect them. But even tourism can potentially harm Whale sharks. If tours are provided by people who are well-educated about the needs of Whale sharks and contribute to the local economy this will not be an issue.

Whale sharks are very vulnerable to depletion through fishing. Even with protection, it is still happening and scientists believe their numbers have been greatly reduced in areas where targeted fishing takes place. The area they are primarily fished is in the Asia-Pacific region to supply the Asian fin and meat markets. Before you sign up for a Whale shark tour or dive, check to make sure they are following the governmental regulations and are not harming the fish in any way.

Swimming With Whale Sharks In Mexico

There are a few Whale shark hotspots in Mexico. Head to the Yucatan Peninsula from June to November to see the biggest aggregations of Whale sharks in the world.

For your best chance to swim with the big spotty fish on the Baja Peninsula, tootle over during winter through to early spring. Only snorkeling is allowed here, but it’s pretty epic!

Get ready to go scuba diving with Whale sharks!

Get that bucket list at the ready and a pen to tick it off with when you go diving with Whale sharks around the world.

Where will you headfirst?

Tell us in the comments!

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    My name’s Austin Tuwiner, a PADI Divemaster based in South Florida. With nearly 10 years of diving under my belt, I’ve accumulated the knowledge to help readers become better divers, buy their next piece of gear, and plan their dream dive vacation!

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