Have you ever dreamed of snorkeling with the largest shark in the ocean? Many people mistakenly think the title of the largest shark goes to the great white, but actually the largest shark (and fish) in the ocean is the whale shark.
With lengths from 4m – 12m, swimming with these gentle, majestic creatures is an experience that should be on every snorkeler’s bucket list. We share everything you need to know about snorkeling with the whale sharks including: where to go, how to pick a tour, and tips for swimming with them, so your experience can be an incredible one.
1. 5 places you can swim with the whale sharks
There are a number of places around the world that you can swim with whale sharks. These are our top 5 picks (in alphabetical order):
- Donsol Bay, South Luzon, Philippines
When to go: December to May. Best sightings are between February and April.
Water temperature: 26-30 degrees Celsius.
- Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia, Australia
When to go: March to July. Best sightings are between April and July.
Water temperature: 22 – 26 degrees Celsius.
- Sun Island, South Ari Atoll, Maldives
When to go: Year-round. Best sightings are between August and November.
Water temperature: 28 – 30 degrees Celsius.
- Tofo Beach, Mozambique
When to go: October to March.
Water temperature: 24 – 28 degrees Celsius.
- Utila, Honduras
When to go: Year-round. Best sightings are between March and April and October to December.
Water temperature: 27 – 31 degrees Celsius.
2. How to pick a whale shark tour
Snorkeling with the whale sharks was on my husband’s and my bucket list for years. And in 2015 we finally took the plunge. Our main considerations in selecting a tour were:
- Guaranteed sighting – There are some companies that if you do not see a whale shark, they will allow you to join another tour for free.
- Ethical practices – A somewhat natural interaction with the whale sharks is very important. We didn’t want the whale sharks to be attracted with food or for the whale sharks to feel crowded or scared. Some tour operators have less than ethical practices when swimming with whale sharks. The best way to check this is to look up reviews of the tour companies online.
- Season –There is no point visiting out of season, there will not be any whale sharks. We wanted to swim with the whale sharks in April, so we had to pick a location that had a good chance of seeing whale sharks at that time.
- Location – As snorkeling with the whale sharks is something that can be done in multiple locations, we wanted somewhere that wasn’t too difficult to get to, and had interesting attractions other than the whale sharks.
- Cost – as always cost is a factor. The experience needs to be affordable. We were happy to pay a bit more so that our other four requirements were met.
In the end, we decided to book a snorkeling tour in Ningaloo Reef in Australia.
3. Have a flexible holiday itinerary
Even if you go on a whale shark tour in high season, there is a chance that you will not see one, as there are never any guarantees with nature. So, avoid disappointment and plan for a couple of extra free days within your itinerary to allow for any changes in the whale shark tour schedule. For example on our whale shark tour, there were some terrible storms which prevented the spotter planes (planes which fly and see where the whale sharks are) from flying. This meant that our tour was canceled. Luckily for us, we had a couple of spare days in our itinerary so we were able to book on the tour for the next day and see the whale sharks.
4. Make sure your equipment fits
While making sure your equipment fits may be an obvious tip, ill-fitting equipment can make the difference between a great whale shark experience and a very average one.
My husband and I had two very different experiences swimming with whale sharks. He says it is one of the best underwater experiences of his life. He had an incredible swim with the whale sharks, with him often being the only person near them. I, on the other hand, didn’t have such a great time. While I managed to see the whale sharks when they swam past (which in itself is amazing), I didn’t have the dream swim my husband had. My fins were too big and fell off my feet and the spare fins they had on the boat were very short fins. I found it very difficult to swim with the short fins and the water was quite choppy so I couldn’t keep up, even though the whale sharks were swimming quite slowly.
5. Comply with the code of conduct when swimming with the whale sharks
Any reputable tour company will have a code of conduct concerning any interactions with the whale sharks to make it safe for both the snorkellers and the whale sharks.
These are the general rules we followed when snorkeling with them in Ningaloo Reef in Australia. Note, rules may vary, country to country and tour to tour, so use this as a minimum and follow your guide for any more stringent requirements.
- Don’t touch or chase the whale sharks.
- Don’t swim directly in front of them or try to block them. Instead, swim alongside them.
- Don’t feed them.
- Do not use a flash when you take pictures.
- Keep quiet and don’t duck dive below the surface as it could scare them away.
- Stay at least 3m away from the whale shark at all times and at least 4m from their tail.
If you are ever lucky enough to swim with the whale sharks we hope that with our tips, your experience is an incredible one.
About the Author
Amanda Bolzan and her husband Dean Samuels have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have traveled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America, and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
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