Whale sharks - with their characteristic two-toned skin pattern- are the biggest fish in the ocean known to have lived on this planet. They are also one of the most mysterious and intriguing ocean fish. Very little is known about their breeding patterns, with only a couple of matings ever seen and non of the birth ever recorded. While the female produces a few hundred eggs, they hatch inside the mother's uterus and are released after reaching a suitable size.
Scuba diving or snorkelling with whale sharks is one of the best experiences of my diving carrier. The biggest fish feeds on the smallest things; therefore, they are not scary and are great pelagic to be around for any snorkeller or scuba diver. They feed on zooplankton and very often on the surface, making them very easy to spot from a boat or liveaboard. Below are my top five places to dive, swim or snorkel with whale sharks:
Whale sharks of Isla Mujeres
The famous photo of swarming whale sharks in the waters around Isla Mujeres was taken back in 2009 and published in National Geographic, putting this place on the map big time! This is where you can see whale sharks congregating in large numbers, and in a single day, you could see up to a couple of dozens of them together. While scuba diving with whale sharks around Isla Mujeres is not allowed, local operators run organised snorkelling and swimming trips, which may be a great option if your children are not qualified scuba divers yet - swimming with whale sharks - lifetime memories guaranteed!
- Suitable for Scuba Divers and Snorkelers
- The season between May and August
- What to wear: Rash Vests & Skin Suits
Whale sharks of Tubbataha National Park
Tubbataha National Park has been the largest protected marine park in the Philippines since 1988 and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. Its atolls, reefs and islands are home to a myriad of aquatic species, and whale sharks are frequent visitors. Tubbataha reefs are well-hidden secrets and only accessible by a liveaboard such as Infinity liveaboard. During the whale shark season, it is common to have over a dozen whale sharks around the Tubbataha reefs during seven-night liveaboard, which makes Tubbataha liveaboards one of the best value-for-money trips ever.
- The whale shark season runs from March to May
- Remote reefs, walls and drift dives require an experienced diver
- Wetsuit to wear: 2-3mm Thick Wetsuits
Whale sharks of Djibouti
Whale sharks visit Djibouti in large numbers between November and January in the Gulf of Tadjoura. Whale sharks of Djibouti are mainly juvenile individuals, but the average size is still about 4 meters! Not bad for a whale shark teenager. The best experience is guaranteed by scuba diving with whale sharks from a liveaboard. Still, places such as Ras Eiro or Arta beach allow swimming and snorkelling alongside these beautiful creatures.
- Whale shark Season: between November and January
- What to wear: 2-3mm Thick Wetsuits or Rash Vests & Skin Suits
Giants of Galapagos Island
One of the best ways to see sizeable whale sharks is to join a liveaboard sailing in the Galapagos Islands. It is said that these volcanic islands attract large, eggs-bearing females with recorded lengths of between 10-12 meters :-) The season best for whale shark diving in Galapagos Islands runs from June to November, and again, the only way to see them is from a dedicated liveaboard such as, e.g. Galapagos Sky. Dives can be challenging, and large whale sharks can be seen in the waters around Wolf and Darwin Islands anywhere from 2 meters to 30 meters during recreational dives.
- As diving is often in strong currents and cooler waters at depth, an advanced qualification is required with a minimum of 40 dives.
- Whale shark season: June to November
- What to wear: the temperature can drop substantially, so full 5mm Thick Wetsuits or 7mm+ Thick Wetsuits with Hoods, Gloves and Boots.
Whale sharks Ningaloo Reef
One of the best places where you have an almost 100% chance to see whale sharks is Ningaloo Reef in Australia - one of the largest and, at the moment, healthiest reef systems around the world. Ningaloo reef whale shark charters operate around Exmouth or Coral Bay and offer snorkelling and diving charters. It is claimed that Ningaloo reef is a record holder regarding the number of whale shark sightings during one season from all the whale shark destinations.
- Whale shark season: from March to the end of July
- What to wear: UPV Rash Vests & Skin Suits to avoid sunburn.