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Despite trying to swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo, and actively looking for them while sailing up Southeast Asia, I never managed to get a swim in with these amazing animals. While, yes, technically I did swim with one in the Maldives, it wasn’t quite the experience I was hoping for.
In Ari Atoll, whale sharks are year-round visitors. Resorts, hotels and dive shops all offer snorkel trips to look for these amazing animals. There’s a huge program called the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program that studies these animals, and The Maldives is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks.
This part of the Maldives is the South Ari Marine Protected Area (SAMPA), which is the largest protected area in the Maldives.
Based on our chats with some of the people who live around South Ari and are involved in the industry, there’s a lot left to be desired. Who is patrolling? We understand that each whale shark has a maximum of six boats each with twelve swimmers in the water at a time. That’s A LOT! By contrast, while swimming with humpback whales in Tonga, only four people were allowed in the water at a time.
While the Maldives may have the most consistent and largest population of whale sharks, it may not be the best place to see them.
While our friends Gina and Eze were visiting, I booked them a whale shark tour through Ariston Dive Center on Dhangethi Island. I was unable to go due to my ear issue, and David opted to wait it out with me. Gina and Eze were on a boat with five divers. They swam with three whale sharks, with their boat being the first boat to spot all three, meaning that at first, they were the only boat swimming with that whale shark. Also, their third sighting was while everyone else was diving, so it was just Gina & Eze swimming with the fish!
Other than the sightings, the tour was pretty bare bones and Gina and Eze were not thrilled with the food selection. It’s a good thing we packed them a lunch!
When Madeline and Molly were visiting, we booked a trip through Bliss Dhigurah. We only saw one whale shark, way down low so we could barely see him, which was a bummer. However, we also swam with a manta ray, sharks and sea turtles. The two snorkel spots we went to were great, and Chloe had snacks (coconut and chocolate chip cookies) plus a variety of beverages.
Dhigurah was one of my favorite stops in the Maldives. We’ve got a blog post coming up about it!
Ningaloo Reef we struck out and the Maldives was underwhelming. We’ve got two more chances to see whale sharks in the next year; Madagascar and Saint Helena.