The thought of swimming with sharks still elicits a comforting shiver in many people. Maybe that’s why offers where you get in the water with the fish are so popular. In general, vacation experiences where you can get close to nature are becoming more and more popular, and since the whale shark is the largest fish that still exists in the waters of the earth, it naturally exudes a special fascination. Whale shark watching can also be on your itinerary if you vacation at one of the hotspots for it.
The whale shark, a gentle giant
Whale sharks are the heavyweights among the fish. It grows between three and twelve meters long and weighs several tons, but there are also reports of specimens 14, 15 or even 18 meters long. The name of the animal also refers to its size. They live mainly in warmer climates where water temperatures are above 20°C, but sometimes appear in colder places. Since they often stay at great depths while doing so, many details about their behavior and development are still scientifically unrecorded. What is known is that the animals have more than 300 rows of teeth, resulting in a dentition of about 3,600 teeth. However, with this biting tool they do not become dangerous to humans and you can swim next to them without any danger as long as you keep enough distance not to accidentally get under their powerful fins. Even though they are usually rather leisurely, they can be quite fast if they see food or get spooked. Whale sharks feed primarily on plankton, though small fish sometimes enter their mouths via the massive amounts of water they suck in. Whale sharks can live up to 100 years and only reach sexual maturity at the age of 10 to 30. You can recognize the animals by the typical spots on their skin.
Whale sharks are protected
No matter where you travel and what ventures you plan, you should always keep conservation in mind. This is especially true for the sensitive ecosystem of the sea, in which man has already caused more than enough problems. The whale sharks have also been threatened in their population for some time and are classified as a highly endangered species. Unfortunately, the number of animals continues to decline. This is due on the one hand to accidents with ships, but on the other hand also to the targeted hunting, because whale sharks are hunted in some parts of Asia both as a delicacy and as a supplier of raw materials for supposedly effective cancer drugs. In addition, increased tourism also seems to stress the animals and may contribute to their reduced reproduction. The female whale shark can control when and if she gives birth to her young, and she only does so when conditions are favorable. Also, overly intrusive tourism can drive animals away from their natural hunting grounds. Therefore, make sure you only tour with operators who control and limit the number of tourists in the water. In addition, the rare animals should not be touched or chased by columns of boats. Because this increases the stress and the risk of injury to humans and animals.
Some few specimens you can also see in aquariums, for example in Okinawa in Japan or in Georgia in the USA. Because of their size, however, the animals need more space than most of these facilities can offer, and trade in the strictly protected species is subject to heavy regulations. No matter where you encounter them, whale sharks are impressive creatures that will leave you with a lasting fascination.
You can watch whale sharks at these hotspots
The best place to watch whale sharks in the wild doesn’t exist, because the animals travel many thousands of kilometers a year and spend time in many different places throughout the year. So if you want to encounter the giant fish while diving, it depends on what time you are traveling.
Maldives, South Ari
This is the only one of the top spots where you have a pretty good chance of encountering whale sharks all year round. They stay either on one side of the atoll or the other, depending on the time of year, and you can see where they are at any time on the local research institute’s website. Several local providers have excursions for encounters with the whale sharks in their program.
This popular island paradise in the Indian Ocean is also a good destination to get in touch with whale sharks, but you’ll have to catch the right travel season. During their annual migration, the giant fish come to the Seychelles in late summer and fall. Here, too, a research institution offers tours with which you can get very close to the whale sharks in a considerate way.
With this destination, you’ll have to go through some hassle – the airport in the capital, Maputo, is a good 400 kilometers away – but it’s definitely worth it. Because of the abundant supply of plankton, you have year-round chances of a sighting, and in the fall and winter it’s even common to see larger groups of whale sharks.
To avoid causing problems for the whale sharks, there is a restriction to a limited number of passengers on the excursion tours offered in Donsol Bay. While the animals are lured with feedings in other places, the focus here is on the pure nature experience, which many visitors appreciate very much. The best time to observe them are the months of the April and May, but you have good chances of a sighting already from the middle of November.
Belize, Gladden Spit
When whale sharks don’t choose the Philippines, they come to the coast off Belize in April and May. They can feel safe here, too, because the waters off many miles of coast are designated as a marine protected area. This leads to the fact that while snorkeling you can not only meet the biggest fish in the world, but also discover many other species of animals under water.
If you’ve ever been involved with whales, you’re probably already familiar with the name of this place, because Utila is considered one of the hotspots for whale watching. The waters around the paradise island are rich in plankton, attracting numerous sea creatures. You have a wide selection of diving schools on site to bring you closer to the underwater wildlife.
There really aren’t many tourists around in this state on the east coast of Africa, and that fact may have contributed to the whale sharks coming very close to shore in Ghoubbet Bay. What this means for you is that you can often even watch the animals worth seeing here from shore.
The Yucatán Peninsula is an exceedingly popular vacation spot. If you’re looking for whale sharks instead of parties, however, you’ll have to leave Cancun to the left and head toward the small, quiet island of Holbox. There’s much less going on here, and the whale sharks appreciate that, regularly showing up here from June to September.
Australia, Ningaloo Reef
Ningaloo is one of the top spots for divers to view coral spawning. When that rush is over, around mid-March and through mid-July, you’ll have a little more room to devote to whale shark watching and admire a beautiful coral reef on Australia’s west coast along the way.
Thailand, Koh Tao
Not far from the well-known vacation island of Koh Samui is this island, where things are much quieter. This is a good condition for the observation of whale sharks, which are relatively rare here, however, compared to other spots. You have the best chances in the months of April, May and June.