Whales Sharks are amongst the most famous visitors to the Maldives and we had the privilege to spend a day with these magnificent fish. The tiny island of Maafushivaru had a marine biology research team led by Amanda who spend their time tracking Whale Sharks and we opted to join them on a trip out to an outer part of South Ari Atoll where the sharks were known to visit.
The boat ride took about 40 mins but it gave us a chance to see some of the other islands in the Maldives archipelago. The sea got a bit more choppy when we left the inner part of the Atoll but not uncomfortably so. Our Marine Biologist and guide Amanda said this was an area where the sharks had been coming this year and we all helped to try and find one by the tell tale occasional break of waves as they breach the surface – and it didn’t take long!
We donned our snorkels and flippers and the boat positioned itself about 100m ahead of the shark as it swam towards us. Fighting our natural instincts about huge sharks and swimming (which logically we knew to be ridiculous for these harmless plankton eating fish), we jumped in the water and swam towards the shark.
The shark had submerged but looking down into the dark blue water, the huge shark swam slowly under our legs just a couple of meters below. It was about 10-12 meters long with greyish-blue skin mottled with white spots and smaller stripes. The huge mouth hung half so we could see right through to the insides of the gills. I think I could have fitted completely inside it’s mouth and throat – not that either it nor I would have entertained that idea!
We swam along with the shark and it didn’t seem bothered by our presence altering neither its course nor depth. I dived down several times to try and get better views and pictures of the side of the shark but this wasn’t easy holding my breath, swimming and trying to operate my little camera!
By now, there were several other swimmers from other boats which had turned up and the water was becoming a wriggling mass of flippers, cameras as everyone tried to follow the shark.
After about 20 minutes, the shark probably had enough of this and slowly descended finally disappearing into the mist of the dark waters below. We all swam back towards our respective boats and restarted our search for more sharks.
It didn’t take long. After about 20 minutes of heading along the edge of the Atoll, we spotted two other boats who had stopped and several swimmers were jumping off the back. After we got closer we could see the direction they were swimming in so once again positioned ourselves about 100m ahead and all jumped in.
This Whale Shark was smaller than the first but still a very big fish. It was swimming slightly deeper so harder to reach by diving down.
I did manage to get a great selfie whilst swimming up side down about 3-4 meters down!
This shark spent about 10 minutes near the surface before it too returned to the deep waters.
We returned to the boat exhilarated from swimming with these two magnificent fish. The boat turned and headed home and Amanda entertained us by looking at the photos and matching them up to the index in her book (apparently each shark has a unique pattern of spots so we could work out when they were last seen). A fantastic experience not to be forgotten!