Top 10 Best Places for Swimming with Whale Sharks15th July 2016 | Mario Passoni
Table of Contents
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Mexico
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Belize
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Philippines
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Tanzania
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Australia
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Maldives
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Mozambique
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Thailand
- Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Indonesia
Diving and Swimming with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the ocean and one of the most gentle and majestic creatures to see underwater. In this article, you’ll find the best whale shark diving locations around the world and the best time to swim and scuba dive with them.
Always keep in mind that the Dive Destination Wizard is a great tool to discover the best destination to dive with your favourite marine life in any given month. Check it out today. It’s free!
For whale shark lovers who are committed to taking vacation in a certain month, we’ve also developed an article for you. In this piece, we suggest the best destination for swimming with whale sharks during each month of the year.
Like most large species of marine life, whale sharks face both human and environmental pressures. As you can see from this IUCN Red List map, the whale shark is endangered throughout its distribution. If you’d like to learn more about these obstacles or find out how you can help, check out our article on whale shark biology and conservation.
Best Whale Shark Diving Locations
The following are the 10 best whale shark diving locations in the world along with an indication of what is the best season to go and how the diving and swimming with whale sharks is carried on.
1. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Mexico
Easily accessible from the United States and Europe, Mexico is one of the lucky locations to be graced by whale sharks. Many claim that Mexico sees more whale sharks at a given time than any other country in the world. In fact, some operators offer a “money back guarantee” because they are so confident you will see a whale shark during your tour. To swim with these large fish, head to Cancun, Cozumel or Baja California.
Whale Shark Season in Mexico
The best time to swim with whale sharks in Mexico depends on what part of the country you intend to visit. Near the Yucatan Peninsula, whale shark season ranges from June to September, whereas whale shark season in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula occurs from winter to early spring.
Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Cancun & Cozumel
Isla Holbox, Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres - these three beautiful Mexican islands lie in the eastern part of Mexico not far from Cancun in the Caribbean Sea. Here you’ll find beautiful landscapes, the charm of Latin culture and the hospitality of the people plus the possibility of excellent snorkelling with whale sharks. In the past, the majority of the whale shark sightings were near Holbox, but in recent years the whale sharks seem to have moved mainly between Contoy and Isla Mujeres. Thinking about swimming with dolphins in Cancun? Skip that excursion to swim with whale sharks instead!
Whale Shark Season in Cancun & Cozumel
The season is officially set from June 15 to September 15. Outside of these dates, whale shark trips are illegal. The peak of the whale shark Cancun season is achieved between July and August. During this great time to swim with whale sharks in Cancun, 30 to 40 specimens can be seen in one excursion near Isla Mujeres or Isla Holbox.
Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Baja California Sur
Along with great scuba diving, Baja California Sur offers fantastic opportunities for swimming or diving with whale sharks. Unlike Cancun where whale shark encounters are highly regulated and scuba diving is usually not allowed, scuba divers have a good chance at blowing bubbles with a whale shark in the Sea of Cortez. So where can you snorkel with whale sharks in Baja California Sur? La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo National Park all offer scuba diving sites where you’ll have an elevated chance at diving with a whale shark. Bahia de Los Angeles is another up-and-coming scuba diving destination where whale sharks are occasionally seen.
Whale Shark Season in Baja California Sur
While whale shark encounters are a better bet near Cancun, divers may happen across one of these graceful creatures during the winter and early spring months in Baja California Sur. To give a rough timeline, November to May tend to be the best months to see whale sharks in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz and elsewhere off Baja California.
2. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Belize
Gladden Spit in Belize is another of the best places to dive with whale sharks. With about 26,000 acres (10,510 ha) and 22 miles of coastline (36 km), Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes are part of a protected marine area (GSSCMR) in Belize. Being a protected area, Gladden Spit is rich in marine life such as sea turtles, coral reefs and colourful fish. Because of its natural biodiversity, this part of Belize offers excellent sightings of whale sharks. If you are ready for your whale shark diving adventure in Belize, head to Gladden Spit.
Whale Shark Season in Belize
The best time to see the whale sharks in Belize and Gladden Spit falls between March and June. This corresponds with the reproduction of two fish, namely the mutton snapper and grouper, whose eggs are a delight for the whale sharks.
3. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Philippines
Long famous for its scuba diving, the Philippines also pleases with whale shark encounters. Both Donsol Bay and Oslob in Cebu are known for regular sightings. However, if you want a more natural experience, visit Donsol Bay where whale shark tours are highly regulated. Noteworthy are also Sogod Bay, Southern Leyte, Puerto Princesa, Palawan and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Recent research has identified more than 942 individual whale sharks in Philippine waters.
Unfortunately, Oslob on Cebu is a favorite among tourists. Here you can find fishermen who hand feed the animals, disrupting their natural behavior.
Whale Shark Season in the Philippines
The best time to see whale sharks in the Philippines is from December to May. During these months, you can swim with whale sharks on their natural migration routes in the Philippines.
Whale Shark Expedition with the Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines
Get ready to explore wild islands, swim with whale sharks and dive with manta rays.
Expert researchers from the MWWP will guide you in an unforgettable holiday in the Philippines.
Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Donsol Bay
There are over 7,500 islands in the Philippines. Donsol is a small town in the Province of Sorsogon on Luzon Island, which has become very famous for its whale shark encounters. In Donsol Bay, it’s forbidden to dive with these animals, but snorkeling is allowed. For diving with these sharks, it is possible to move to a nearby location. Overall, Donsol Bay is considered the best place to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines.
Whale Shark Season in Donsol Bay
You may encounter whale sharks in Donsol Bay from December to May. February to April is peak season and locally called “butanding.”
Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Cebu
The town of Oslob, in the province of Cebu, is sadly famous for its whale shark watching. Unfortunately this is an example of what should be avoided. The sharks are fed by local fishermen to try to make them stay in the area longer than normal and thus increase the money obtained from this business. The season for whale sharks in Oslob is only a few months, but with this strategy, some sharks have remained in Oslob for more than a year! By doing so local fishermen have interrupted the migration routes, further damaging the life cycle of the whale sharks. One consequence of this disruption is the destruction of reproductive habits. Moreover, these animals are often touched by guests of whale shark tours and even by the guides. This causes a lot of stress to the animals and the possibility of infecting them with bacteria from our skin. We do not suggest you visit this place as long as this situation is not resolved and they start following the rules of conduct.
Whale Shark Season in Cebu
Unfortunately, the whale shark season in Oslob is year-round. This is an unnatural occurrence and one of the reasons we urge scuba divers to avoid whale shark encounters in Oslob.
4. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Tanzania
Mafia (a.k.a. Chole Shamba) is an island in the Indian Ocean which belongs to Tanzania. The warm waters and typical tropical surroundings create pleasant moments. Moreover, this tourist destination is still relatively unknown to the average traveler, making it more attractive. To make a trip to Mafia, Tanzania even more unforgettable, marine life lovers should sign up for a whale shark excursion. These graceful giants can be regularly spotted and approached close to shore.
Whale Shark Season in Tanzania
Whale sharks can be seen near Mafia Island between October and March.
5. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Australia
Ningaloo Reef extends for 160 miles (260 mi) along the west coast of Australia. This stunning reef is home to a plethora of fish (500 species), corals (300 species), molluscs (600 species) and many other marine invertebrates. During the winter you may encounter migratory animals such as dolphins, manta rays and humpback whales. Along the beaches, different species of sea turtles lay their eggs. In addition to this wonderful variety of marine life, whale sharks are often encountered by scuba divers in the region. Ready to dive with whale sharks in Australia? Head to Ningaloo Reef.
Whale Shark Season in Australia
The best time to dive with whale sharks in Australia is during the Australian fall months, from March to June each year.
6. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Maldives
Imagine you're lost in the middle of the Indian Ocean and on a desert island that you can explore in just a few minutes of walking. Inside there is a tropical forest along with palm trees that provide you with shade. White coral sand and turquoise seas stretch out before your eyes. Underwater exists a marine paradise rich in everything imaginable, such as turtles, colorful schools of fish, manta rays, dolphins and whale sharks. These are the Maldives, 1,192 coral islands divided into 26 atolls. Along the southern edge of the South Ari Atoll, "small" whale sharks (from 3 to 8 meters) come to feed and grow, staying about two months on average. These warm tropical waters allow them to find lots of food and an environment without predators.
Whale Shark Season in the Maldives
Whale sharks are present in equal numbers all year round. Early May to late September is the ‘wet season,’ a period of sustained southwesterly winds which may or may not lead to periods of poor weather. The proximity to the equator means temperatures rarely venture below 82°F (28°C).
The team of researchers of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme have discovered and identified 298 whale sharks since 2006, and have recorded 4063 different encounters.
7. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Mozambique
Are you looking for a location still to be discovered? Tofo Beach is situated in the south of Mozambique, not too far from South Africa. Thanks to its uncontaminated nature, Tofo Beach is a very interesting place to visit. Manta rays, dolphins, sea turtles and, during their winter migration, humpback whales are often spotted nearby. You can see all of this and whale sharks, too. If you’re ready to venture off the beaten path, be sure to plan your whale shark adventure for Tofo Beach in Mozambique.
Whale Shark Season in Mozambique
The best time to find these sharks in Mozambique, and Tofo Beach in particular, is between June and January.
8. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
The Galapagos Islands are a volcanic archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, not far from Ecuador. Made famous by Charles Darwin, these islands boast the presence of numerous endemic species, such as penguins, Galapagos tortoises and marine iguanas, which can be seen while scuba diving in the area. There’s also a wide variety of corals and sharks. Wolf Island offers unforgettable dive spots such as Shark Bay, The Landslide, The Pinnacle, The Caves, North Islet, The Elephant and The Anchorage. Darwin Island offers only two dive sites, but they are considered among the most beautiful in the world! Because of the sheer biodiversity of the area, whale sharks are among the wealth of species regularly seen while scuba diving.
Whale Shark Season in the Galapagos
The best time to swim with whale sharks in the Galapagos is during the dry season, which takes place between June and December.
9. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Thailand
Thailand offers a lot to tourists including gorgeous landscapes and temples, the bustling capital of Bangkok and the southern islands. Among these, Koh Tao is one of the most beautiful and is famous for diving. In addition to all the marine beauties you will meet along this tropical coral reef, you can also swim with whale sharks. The best places to see these graceful creatures are Southwest Pinnacle and Chumphon Pinnacle, located approximately 45 minutes away from Koh Tao. Two other popular points are called Shark Island and Hin Wong Pinnacle. Even if you don’t see a whale shark, you are likely to see one of the many sea turtles dwelling at these sites.
Whale Shark Season in Koh Tao, Thailand
Scuba divers have the best chance of swimming with whale sharks in Koh Tao during the months of March, April, May, September and October.
10. Swimming & Diving with Whale Sharks in Indonesia
Cenderawasih Bay is a large, sheltered bay in West Papua which belongs to Indonesia. Gorgeous reefs and shipwrecks from World War II can be found in these warm, tropical waters. Moreover, this tourist destination is still being explored by scuba divers, meaning you may be one of the first people to dive any given dive site. To make a trip to Cenderawasih Bay even more memorable, scuba divers should ensure at least one whale shark dive. These graceful giants exhibit a rare feeding pattern in this part of Indonesia. They suck on the bottom of fishing nets, extracting the delicious small fish. Because this pattern is known, seeing whale sharks in Cenderawasih Bay is nearly guaranteed.
Whale Shark Season in Indonesia
Whale sharks can be seen in Cenderawasih Bay year-round, but the most liveaboards visit the area from August to October, making this peak whale shark season.
Whale Sharks in the Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, USA also offers an opportunity to swim with whale sharks in an enclosed environment. This aquarium is one of only a few in the world to keep these graceful giants in captivity. The whale sharks that live in Georgia have a unique backstory. They were originally caught with an intent of sale in the Taiwanese fish markets. Instead of going to the butcher, the Georgia Aquarium bought these whale sharks, keeping them for years in a large tank. Certified scuba divers are now able to participate in guided dives with the whale sharks in the aquarium. However, we don’t recommend diving here. Whale sharks are independent creatures that should not be kept in captivity.
Your Adventure with Whale Sharks
Are you ready to book the whale shark adventure of your dreams? Get in touch with our team to organise your whale shark diving excursion. If you’ve already been swimming with whale sharks, let us know in the comments where you went and how you liked it.
This article, and the opinions expressed within were written by Mario Passoni, a marine biologist involved in several projects concerning ocean conservation and education. Special thanks to Richard Rees from Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, Alex Watts / Dr Simon Pierce at the Marine Megafauna Foundation for their local scientific knowledge in Mozambique and Tanzania, Arnel “AA” Yaptinchay from Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines and Luca Saponari.