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Diving with whale sharks is usually pretty high on the bucket list of a scuba diver. The biggest fish in the sea, these gentle giants are truly a sight to behold in their natural habitat.
It is important to interact with whale sharks respectfully and ethically, which is why we have put together a guide of all you need to know about diving with whale sharks, including where best to see them.
There are many respectful tour companies that practice ethical diving and swimming with whale sharks. But there are unfortunately some that cut corners and sacrifice whale shark safety to make money.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing your tour operator for both swimming and diving with whale sharks around the world:
If an operator has whale sharks kept in a tank, in confined water, or an aquarium, do not dive with them. It might be tempting to have a guaranteed experience with the sharks, but their wellbeing should always be the top priority.
It is always better to see a happy and free whale shark enjoying their life in their natural habitat rather than seeing them cooped up in a tank. Many of these operators claim they are using your money to protect marine life, or that the sharks are rescued. Although many aquariums do some good for the oceans, keeping large, pelagic animals in a tank is unethical.
In the wild, whale sharks migrate thousands of miles! Keeping these majestic animals in a tank and allowing people to dive with them in those conditions is never okay.
Whale sharks are capable of feeding themselves and when humans feed them, we can interfere with their migratory patterns. Some operators feed marine life to bring them close to the boat and give their guests a "good" experience, but a guaranteed sighting for you can be detrimental to the species, so avoid companies that do this.
As we will explain more below, touching whale sharks can cause them illness and injury. It can also stress them out and make them unhappy. If any tour operator claims they will let you touch the sharks, report them to local authorities and discourage others from using them too.
It is important to show respect to all marine animals, but whale sharks in particular are an endangered species. This is why divers should do all they can to protect them and show respect when sharing the water with them.
Here are a few tips on how to go diving with whale sharks responsibly:
Touching whale sharks can interfere with their skin. Their skin has a layer of mucus, which is there to protect them, and if we touch the skin of a whale shark, we may leave them vulnerable to ailments. Trying to touch a whale shark is also likely to scare it away, which will mean less dive time with these beautiful fish.
No one wants to be harassed, and it is no different for ocean animals. It is important to keep a few meters distance between yourself and a whale shark when you are scuba diving. This is to ensure the whale shark does not feel threatened and you are protected from accidentally being injured by the whale shark’s powerful tail getting too close.
Try to stay at the side of the whale shark instead of being right in front of it or on top of it. If there is a group of you, make sure you do not surround the shark. This is to ensure the whale shark does not feel trapped or scared and is free to engage with you or not.
Ocean animals are capable of finding their food and feeding marine life can interfere with their migratory patterns. They can come to rely on humans for food instead of finding it themselves. It is usually never a good idea to feed marine life.
Encourage other divers to follow these rules and share the importance of respecting whale sharks. If you see others harassing, touching, or riding a whale shark, report the incident to local authorities, especially if tour operators are encouraging this behavior.
At this point, you are probably excited to get your trip booked to go scuba diving with whale sharks. Although in most locations you are not guaranteed to see whale sharks (like with any other wild animal), there are a few spots around the world where you have a high chance of spotting them. Here are our top three:
Central America is home to the country of Honduras, which offers some exciting whale shark experiences, especially if you go diving in Utila. This bay island just off the coast of Honduras is not only home to the second largest barrier reef in the world, but Honduras also has white sand beaches, rivers, and ruins.
As well as diving with whale sharks, you might spot other exciting things underwater at Utila, including manta rays, turtles, and beautiful thriving coral reefs.
When to go: April or May is the best time to go to Utila if you are hoping to spot whale sharks.
There are a few spots where it is possible to swim with whale sharks in Mexico, but Isla Mujeres has to be the best place for diving with them. Tour operators in Isla Mujeres provide whale shark experiences while following strict procedures to protect the whale sharks.
Mexico is a hotspot for tourists from all over the world, offering white sand beaches, delicious food, and warm, blue waters that are perfect for diving. There is so much to enjoy when you go diving in Mexico. As well as whale sharks, divers and snorkelers might spot sea lions, bull sharks, mobula rays, and lots more depending on which area in Mexico you visit.
When to go: The best time to see whale sharks in Isla Mujeres is between July and August.
One of the most idyllic and sought-after destinations, the Maldives offers whale sharks and many other large, pelagic species to dive tourists year-round. The South Ari Atoll is the best place to find whale sharks, but the Maldives as a whole is considered to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
With postcard-worthy white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and year-round sunshine, what is not to love? Whale sharks, manta rays, tiger sharks, and healthy coral reefs are to be found when you go diving in the Maldives.
When to go: Whale sharks stay all year in South Ari Atoll, but the best time to go is said to be between August and November.