A Surprise Encounter!

The beauty of diving in the Maldives is that a wonderful surprise can occur at any time. Today’s bolt from the blue (no pun intended) was a juvenile whale shark! An extremely rare sighting in North Male Atoll, whale sharks are much more commonly found in South Ari, some 120km further south than Gili Lankanfushi. It was during Dive 4 of the Open Water diving certification course, that a family of 4 got up close and personal with the world’s largest fish! Often confused for a whale because of the name, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is in fact a filter feeding cartilaginous fish that is completely harmless, unless you were to get in the way of its huge tail. The largest whale shark on record is 12.65m, however our particular gentle giant was only 3-4m in size, making it a young juvenile estimated to be about 4 years old. Like most little ones, he/she was very curious and swum within an arm’s length of the group. A true spectacle of nature!
Unfortunately on this occasion, nobody had a camera with them to get a shot of the juvenile. The above photograph was taken on Debs’ last trip to South Ari where this 5.5m individual crept up on them during a snorkel.

Very little is actually known about these elusive giants, and to discover more about them, a group of Marine Biologists founded the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) in 2006. The research-based conservation charity based here in the Maldives is dedicated to studying the whale shark to find out more about their numbers, behaviour and movements in Maldives, as well as setting up community based conservation initiatives. In 2009 their work highlighting important whale shark habitats in the Maldives was crucial to the establishment of SAMPA; a large marine protected area in South Ari atoll. In addition, the codes of conduct MWSRP have developed make it possible for visitors to enjoy the whale sharks in a sustainable way, without disturbing these vulnerable animals.

 Here at Gili Lankanfushi, we have recently added a ‘Whale Shark Adventure’ to the list of excursions that we have on offer. This full day trip would include travelling down to the famous South Ari Marine Protected Area on our luxury yacht ‘Gili Goes Voyaging’. Not only does the area offer a great chance to snorkel with the beautiful whale sharks, but it is also an amazing place to spot Manta rays, dolphins and turtles along the same reef! To fully appreciate the day, we can even stop at a deserted sandbank for a gourmet picnic, or cruise for a spot of big game fishing on the return journey! – whatever your heart desires, really!

The spots behind the gill slits are unique to each individual

and are used for photographic ID.

We can’t wait to get down to SAMPA again, and hopefully, with the help our guests, get some ID photographs that can contribute to the great work that the MWSRP are doing. Similar to the Manta rays, the sharks have spot patterns unique to each individual. If you see your own whale sharks in Maldives, and especially if you have photographs of the sides of the fish, you should head to the Big Fish Network; an App you can download on your mobile to document your sightings.

With dry season in full swing, the sea is flat as a pancake and the visibility is fantastic. As for the dive team, we can’t wait to jump back in the water in the morning to see what tomorrows surprise will be. 

Jon, Debs & Josie