Whale Shark encounters in the Maldives
The first Whale Shark national Park was implemented by the Maldivian government in the year 2009 in the area of Mamigilli, which is located at the very south of the Ari Atoll. Any of the resort islands in this area can provide you with trips to this national park, for snorkelers, or divers.
Going to the national park itself is already spectacular. Cruising through the waters of the Maldives is special, seeing small islands, sometimes escorted by schools of Dolphins, I even got once very lucky and saw two Humpback Whales on the way there.
The search for the sharks is done from the sun roof of your dive boat (dhoni) and when there is a shark spotted, the crew tries to bring you close enough, so that the shark is not being harassed but in swimming range. The whale sharks in this area are mostly juvenile, between 3 and 9 meters long and there are more or less 110 of them constantly visiting this area. It looks like a nursery.
The most amazing memory I have was the first encounter with a whale shark during a dive. We were jumping in the near of Sun Island and where drifting along the reef at about 25 meters depth when all of a sudden I saw a huge mouth coming towards us. The visibility on this day was something like 20 meters, so the shark was already quite close. It was one of the larger ones and it came directly towards us at a slow pace. First I was a little bit scared, because the only thing that I saw, was this very wide mouth, but as soon as I spotted the dots of the head everybody jumped excited into the water. The whale shark was passing by and was hardly disturbed by our presence. We managed to keep up with him for 5 minutes, then he turned toward the open sea. What always astonishes me is how gentle whale sharks look but what speed they can make with hardly any moves.
Another encounter was impressive, but not as spectacular as the first time, as I already knew that he would be coming our direction. I consider this dive of my best dives ever: on the way over to the jumping point we already saw a school of dolphins and we kept on hearing them while diving along, but Dolphins usually do not come close to divers. After spotting the whale shark I already knew everybody was happy. We were drifting along, when it suddenly got dark. I turned around and a huge school of about 150 mobula rays was swimming above us. It does not happen every day, that a whale shark and a school of mobulas joins you for a dive. Is there anything more to hope for on a dive? After the encounter, we continued our way, and suddenly a part of the Dolphin pod decided to come very close to us and then take a spin around us. That was the dive of our lives!
In this area there is also research done by an non profit organization called the Maldivian Whale Shark Research Program. There everybody is asked to take pictures of the side of the whale sharks, as this is like a finger print of the shark, and it helps the scientist to locate the sharks and count their visits to this area. If the whale shark is unknown, you can choose a name for it
A very interesting fact about the National Park of Mamigilli is, that most of the sharks are Male (over 80%) and all of them are juvenile. Why is still to be answered.
Diving in the Maldives is an unforgettable experience!
(Story by Jörg Delacher)