Diving With Whale Sharks: The Best Places to Dive or Swim With Whale Sharks

“If you ever have a chance to swim with whale sharks, you will never forget this magical experience. You will become an ambassador for the protection of these majestic animals for the rest of your life.” – Volker Bassen

Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the world – gentle giants of great beauty.

It is guaranteed to be one of the most unforgettable experiences in life to swim side by side in the sea with whale sharks. Undoubtedly, it is high on the list of many outdoor fans, adventurers, nature and sea lovers.

Fortunately, there are a handful of destinations in the world where whale sharks are almost guaranteed to be spotted in specific seasons. You just have to know when and where. We also believe that some degree of knowledge about whale sharks helps you appreciate them even more.

So let’s get started! Either read the whole article from beginning to end or jump to your favorite section:

Why Should I Trust This Guide to Swimming with Whale Sharks

Get to Know Whale Sharks

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous for Humans?

Best Places to Dive or Swim with Whale Sharks

The Secret and Absolutely Best Place to Swim With Whale Sharks

Interesting Facts About Whale Sharks

whale shark dive and diving

Why Should I Trust This Guide to Swimming with Whale Sharks

Chris and Jan, the founders of Animals Around The Globe are absolute whale shark enthusiasts. They travelled already to seven locations on this list in the pursuit of finding whale sharks.

On their journeys of diving with whale sharks, they came across the most underrated spot to snorkel with whale sharks.

It is not widely known, however, the chances to see a whale shark there are higher than anywhere else. We will reveal this location at the end.

Get to Know Whale Sharks

whale shark diving

The whale shark is not a mixture of whale and shark but rather a shark the size of a whale! Whale sharks are record holders as they are the largest fish in the world.

Whale sharks were first scientifically described in 1828. They are still a big mystery for researchers. Even the information on size, lifespan and weight vary widely.

The knowledge about origin, behavior and travel-routes is even more miserable. But it is estimated that the animals can grow up to 20 meters long, weigh more than 34 tons and live to be over 100 years old.

Endangerment of Whale Sharks

The whale shark is classified as endangered on the Red List of Endangered Species. It is estimated that the population has been decimated by more than half in recent years. The main reason for this is direct fishing. 

In some Asian countries whale sharks are considered a delicacy, their meat is still sold on many markets today. In addition, the animals only become sexually mature between 15 and 30 years. Many whale sharks already land on the plate before they can reproduce. 

Although the hunting of whale sharks is now forbidden in many places, they are still fished today due to the high profits.

In addition to its use as edible fish in Asian countries, there is also a dubious use in alternative medicine. Since malignant tumors do not occur in whale sharks, dried shark cartilage is sold as an “anti-cancer agent” and even offered in Europe.

Of course, there is no evidence that there are any positive effects stemming from this behavior. 

endangered species

After all, one thing should not be forgotten: If curiosity is so great, these sea giants deserve respect. So: keep your distance and try to not touch them – like everything under water – and don’t photograph with flashlight. 

Please help protecting these mesmerizing creatures by observing them and sharing your love for them.

Distribution of Whale Sharks

Whale-sharks prefer a water-temperature of 21 to 25 °C and are to be found in almost all warm, tropical and subtropical waters worldwide with what there are regions, in which they occur frequently.

Usually these are areas with seasonal plankton blooms or regions where plankton-rich colder buoyancy water can be observed.

Whale sharks often migrate between coastal and offshore areas. Male whale sharks cover considerable distances, female whale sharks only shorter; they seem to return regularly to the area of their birth. Also male sharks return regularly to certain places.

They occur sporadically however also in groups. At such gatherings, over 400 individuals can come together where they feed on large aggregations of fish larvae.

whale shark tours

Whale sharks actively suck in the water (up to 6000 l/h) and squeeze it out again through their gills, which are equipped with a sponge-like filtering apparatus.

This is formed by cartilage braces, which connect the individual gill arches like a grid with each other and on which among each other matted little skin teeth sit.

In order to cover their enormous food requirements, they filter small fish and other sea dwellers out of the water in this way in addition to plankton.

Frequently, they “stand” vertically on that occasion, the head to the water-surface directed in the water, or they move the head protruding from the water from one side to the other and open and close the mouth (7-28 times per minute) on that occasion.

Diet of Whale Sharks

Whale sharks have a colored blue-gray back, which is covered with white dots and stripes, a light belly and a 1.5m wide, blunt mouth. Through this large mouth, which extends over the entire width of the head, the animals let 6,000 litres of water flow through per hour.

Whale sharks filter their food from the sea – only two other shark species feed in the same way: the basking shark and the giant mouth shark. The whale shark’s diet includes krill, crab larvae, jellyfish, sardines, mackerel, small tunas and squid.

Because of this type of food intake, whale sharks, unlike most sharks, glide slowly and comfortably through the water. Most sharks swim by moving their tail fin back and forth.

The whale shark, on the other hand, tilts its entire body alternately from left to right and from right to left. It can reach a maximum speed of 5 km/h.

Are Whale Sharks Dangerous for Humans?

No. Although the whale shark belongs to the sharks, it is not dangerous. It is very gentle and does not pose a threat to humans.

Most of the time, it can only be seen in the open water anyways. 

Some people might be afraid of being accidentally “swallowed”. However, this fear is completely unreasonable as a whale shark cannot swallow anything larger than a watermelon.

whale shark selfie

The Best Places to Dive or Swim with Whale Sharks

Swimming with whale sharks is a dream of many underwater enthusiasts. The following places help you to maximize your chances to see whale sharks.  

Criteria to Rank the Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks

The following ranking is sorted after criteria which are in our opinion the most relevant for divers. We were evaluating the most important criteria when someone aspires to dive with blue sharks, namely:

  1. How Likely is it to encounter whale sharks. 
  2. How is the situation with diving schools at the respective whale shark diving spot.
  3. What is the water visibility like.

#1 – Isla Holbox and Cancun, Mexico

whale shark boat

Number one of the list of Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks. is Mexico.

From the East Coast of Mexico, where the favorite holiday spots Cancun and Playa del Carmen, lie Isla Holbox is not far.

Just a 25-minute boat ride from the mainland is Holbox, the sleepy northernmost island of the state of Quintana Roo. It is guaranteed to be the counterpart to the crazy, lively holiday resort of Cancun on the Yucatán peninsula in the south.

Holbox is a hotspot for a chill beach holiday. Sunbathing on a lounger, swinging in a hammock and jumping into the water from time to time – these are the main activities of most tourists on Holbox.

The name Holbox comes from the Maya language and means “black hole”. There are different explanations for the origin of the name.

On the one hand the name is said to derive from the water in the Yalahao lagoon, which is partly dark coloured by the mangroves, on the other hand from a “black hole” in the ocean, where the fishermen caught their biggest fish. Holbox has about 1500 inhabitants, who live mainly from fishing and tourism.

Alternatively, the areas directly around Cancun and Riviera Maya are also hotspots for swimming with whale sharks with similar over even higher chances to see whale sharks – compared to Isla Holbox.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in Cancun, Mexico:

Best time to dive with whale sharksDaily from June to September, when the whale sharks come to mate
Chances to encounter whale sharks90%
Water Temperature24 C – 28 C

Best Diving Schools near Cancun and Playa del Carmen for snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Mexico Whale Shark
  2. Ocean Tours
  3. Holbox Tours
  4. Cancun Encounters
  5. Searious Diving
  6. Willy’s Tours

The relaxed village of Holbox is a great alternative to the busy tourist centres. 

The choice ranges from cheap hostels like the Tribu Hostel to middle class pensions like Holbox Apartments and Suites and luxury hotels like the Palapas del Sol. Some travel companies offer a transfer by speedboat from Cancun and Playa del Carmen to Holbox.

#2 – Ningaloo Reef, Exmouth, Western Australia

whale shark in western australie

Australia’s largest and easily accessible coral reef, not the great barrier reef but Ningaloo, is located about 1,200 kilometres north of the capital Perth on the west coast. The 300 km long area is home to over 500 species of fish.

The reef was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011.

Most of the whale sharks come between mid-March and July. Then the time of the fascinating coral spawning is over, a natural spectacle that also attracts many divers and snorkelers every year. 

Do you like diving with sharks? Have a look at our recent article about Great White Shark Diving.

Numerous tours start from Exmouth with pick-ups at local caravan parks, campsites and hotels such as the Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks near Exmouth at the Ningaloo reef, Australia

Best time to dive with whale sharksMid March – July
Chances to encounter whale sharks90%
Water Temperature27°C – 31°C (81°F – 88°F)

Best Diving Schools in Exmouth at the Ningaloo Reef for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Ningaloo Swim
  2. Ningaloo Discovery
  3. Ningaloo Blue Dive
  4. 3 Islands Dive
  5. Ningaloo Reef Dive

#3 – Utila, Honduras (Whaleshark paradise)

Utila is one of THE insider tips par excellence for swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks!

An unknown island with real island life and white beaches, a nice little hotel with a great restaurant (which is even known beyond the island!), a professionally organized dive center and Caribbean dive sites!

The island of Utila has only one main road, lined with colourful houses and mostly uninhabited, with the exception of a small fishing community at East Harbour – a Caribbean resort as you might imagine! Small bars, friendly, laughing people, music…

In the evening the place really comes to life, because then Caribbean rhythms sound to the bars and all divers gather in the different bars. 

whale sharks ocean dive

The small backpacker’s paradise off the Caribbean coast of Honduras is one of the cheapest destinations in the world to get your diving license. It is also one of only a few whale shark research centers in the world.

The right time: Most of the fascinating whale sharks visit Utila between March and April. But also from September to Christmas, magnificent specimens are sighted again and again, but more rarely.

The best tour guides: The absolute whale shark professionals are the guides from Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center.

Alternatively, many other dive boats sail daily to the north side of the island, where most sharks are spotted. Another awesome spot to the Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in Utila, Honduras:

Best time to dive with whale sharksDaily from June to September, when the whale sharks come to mate
Chances to encounter whale sharks75%
Water Temperature27°C – 31°C (81°F – 88°F)

Best Diving Schools in the Honduras for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Paradise Divers
  2. Utila Cays Diving
  3. Coral View Dive Center
  4. Utila Dive Center
  5. Oceanic Research Center

#4 – Gladden Spit, Belize

whale sharks on belize

A massive fish spawn between March and June attracts whale sharks to Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve (GSSCMR).

The fascinating sanctuary covers an area of about 100 square kilometers and is located 40 kilometers from the southeastern coastal city of Placencia in central Belize.

The right time: April and May are the safest months to see whale sharks. Most are sighted a few days after the full moon.

The best places: The sandy streets of Placencia, appropriately translated as “Pleasant Point”, offer a handful of affordable cabana-style accommodations.

With simple standards and gorgeous colors, Julias Cabanas lies on the beach. The upscale Turtle Inn, also in Placencia, is a luxury family resort. It offers special whale shark packages during the season.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in Belize at Gladden Spit:

Best time to dive with whale sharksApril and May
Chances to encounter whale sharks70%
Water Temperature27°C – 29°C (81°F – 84°F)

Best Diving Schools in Belize near Gladden Spit for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Seahorse Dive Shop
  2. Splash Dive Shop
  3. Go Sea Tours
  4. Patojo’s Scuba Center
  5. Belize Underwater

#5 – South Mahé, Seychelles

whale sharks in seychelles

Some of the first scientific whale shark records come from the Seychelles, where the peaceful animals are well protected. Mahé is the largest island in the Indian Ocean archipelago and the best place to discover it.

Right time: Whale sharks pass Mahé between August and November. Most of the marine mammals are sighted in October.

Best accommodation: The Four Seasons Resort Seychelles works with the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles to offer snorkelling trips in October using a microlight aircraft.

The best tour guides: With the professionals from MCSS, you are guaranteed to be on the right side.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in South Mahé, Seychelles:

Best time to dive with whale sharksAugust – November
Chances to encounter whale sharks90%
Water Temperature27°C – 31°C (81°F – 88°F)

Best Diving Schools in South Mahé, Seychelles for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Blue Sea Divers
  2. Dive Seychelles Underwater Centre
  3. Ocean Dream Divers
  4. Trek Divers Seychelles
  5. Big Blue Divers

#6 – Koh Tao, Thailand

whale sharks in thailand

North of the legendary party island Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand, Koh Tao is known for its cheap diving. Whale sharks are often seen around Chumphon Pinnacle, just a 15 minute boat ride from the island.

Right time: Whale shark encounters are a lucky hit in these areas. It is possible all year round, but especially from April to June.

Best accommodation: In resorts such as Bans Diving Resort or Big Blue Diving, prices are lower for those who book a diving course with their accommodation.

The best tour guides: Some resorts professionally combine tours and accommodation. Special snorkel trips are not offered. If you are not a diver, simply ask if you can take a dive boat to one of the whale shark hotspots.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in Koh Tao, Thailand:

Best time to dive with whale sharksApril – June 
Chances to encounter whale sharks30%
Water Temperature27°C – 31°C (81°F – 88°F)

Best Diving Schools in Koh Tao, Thailand for swimming with Whale Sharks

Overall, multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Calypso Diving
  2. Coral Grand Divers
  3. New Way Diving
  4. Big Blue Diving
  5. The Dive Inn

#7 – South Ari Atoll, Maldives (Whaleshark winter)

whale shark in the maldives

Whale sharks are native to the Maldives all year round. From May to December they prefer the western side of the Indian Ocean archipelago and then head east until April. South Ari Atoll is a fascinating marine reserve.

Right time: The good news: Always. Tour operators offer snorkeling trips to South Ari all year round. On the website of the Maldives Whaleshark Research Program (MWSRP) there is an app to watch the whale shark currents. 

Best accommodation: There are resorts and guest houses all over the island that also offer their own tours. The TME Retreats Maldives are partners of MWSRP and therefore a good choice for accommodation and tour service.

The best tour guides: MWSRP and TME Retreats are the competent local providers.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in the Maldives:

Best time to dive with whale sharksYear round sightings possible!
Chances to encounter whale sharks>90%
Water Temperature28 C – 30 C

Best Diving Schools near South Ari Atoll and for snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Island Divers 
  2. Euro-Divers Vilamendhoo
  3. DiveOceanus
  4. Dive & Sail Ellaidhoo
  5. Dive The World Maldives

#8 – Bay of Ghoubbet, Djibouti

Whale shark ocean

This small, hidden bay is located at the western end of the Gulf of Tadjoura in the Indian Ocean. It is one of the most reliable places in the world to swim with whale sharks.

It is not uncommon for some of the giants to cross the coast so close that they are even seen by snorkelers. Diving boats also offer trips to whale sharks in remote bays.

Right time: Whale sharks usually arrive at the end of October and stay in the bay until February. High season is November to January.

Best accommodation: There are no significant accommodations along the bay. The best base is therefore in Djibouti City. The Atlantic Hotel is recommended. The cheaper alternative: Le Héron Auberge.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in Djibouti:

Best time to dive with whale sharksOctober – February
Chances to encounter whale sharks>90%
Water Temperature26/27 °C (79/81 °F) in winter to 29/31 °C (84/88 °F)

Best Diving Schools in Djibouti for snorkeling with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Dolphin Excursions Djibouti
  2. Aqua Club Diving Center Djibouti

#9 – Donsol Bay, Philippines

Whale shark phillipines

Another one of the Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks. is Donsol.

Since whale sharks were first seen in this fishing village in Luzon in 1998, it is considered one of the most important tourist destinations in the Philippines.

In conclusion, sightings of the large marine animals are less frequent than in Oslob on the island of Cebu, for example. But in Donsol the sharks are not “fed” especially for the tourists.

Right time: Whale sharks usually arrive between November and June. The main season is between February and April.

Best accommodation: Donsol is still a sleepy town with only a handful of hotels. Our tips are the Elysia Beach Resort or the Dancalan Beach Resort.

The best tour guides: From Manila, Donsol EcoTour and Whale Shark Adventure and Tours offer both day trips and multi-day packages.

Best tour guides: There are several diving centres that offer daily snorkeling and diving trips during the season, such as Tofo Scuba.

Key statistics to swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines at Donsol Bay:

Best time to dive with whale sharksOctober – March
Chances to encounter whale sharks60%
Water Temperature27°C – 31°C 

Best Diving Schools in the Philippines at Donsol Bay for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):

  1. Donsol Interaction
  2. Bicol Dive Center
  3. Fun Dive Asia
  4. Diver`s Center

The Secret and Absolutely Best Place to Swim With Whale Sharks: La Paz, Mexico, Baja de California

The late French explorer Jacques Cousteau once called the Sea of Cortez the world’s aquarium.

Whale shark mexico

Here is our personal experience:

I pull my diving mask off my face, smile softly into myself and at the same time out of myself. Everything is one! I feel connected with the sea, with the land, with the sky, with our galaxy and the whole universe. I just snorkeled and dived with a whale shark for 30 minutes!

Quietly, alone without anyone else around me – just the whale shark and me. We communicated, vibrations, energy, pictures – 30 minutes! – Pure bliss on the highest level.

I tried, but I could not find words to put this intense, positive feeling, this indescribable energy in words.

We recommend going on a whale shark tour around La Paz between October and May when the water is full of plakton.

Best Diving Schools in La Paz and Cabo San Lucas for swimming with Whale Sharks

Multiple diving schools are offering whale shark encounters. Here are the most reliable ones (Rated on Google Maps and Trip Advisor):
  1. Tuna Tuna Tours
  2. Baja Whale Shark
  3. BACO
  4. Fun Cabo
  5. Cabo Adventures
  6. Cabo Scuba
 

Interesting Facts About Whale Sharks

Scroll down to read baffling fact about whale sharks.

How Do Whale Sharks Reproduce

The whale shark youngsters already hatch in the mother.

Whale Sharks Have Their Own Kind of Fingerprint 

Their dots on their backs reveal unique formations with which each whale shark can be identified.

How Old Can Whale Sharks Become

We assume that whale sharks can become over 100 years old, but scientists are not entirely certain what their maximum age is. That’s why there are so many Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks.

The Thick Skin of a Whale Shark

Apparently, the whale-shark has the thickest skin in the realm of the fish, it is 10-15 cm thick.

Summary

In conclusion, whale Sharks are beautiful animals. There are multiple location where you can go to encounter them. However, a sighting is not always guaranteed. We hope to give you an insight in the Best Places to Swim With Whale Sharks.

Do you like this article?

If you also like to read more about Big Cats in Africa, we have posts on the best places to see Leopards in Africa, Walking with Lions or seeing the European Lynx.

Are you an animal enthusiast? Check out our posts about Blue Shark Diving. and Elephants

For Safari/ Trekking have a look on the top 10 African Safari Parks in Africa  or a trekking tour to the Mountain Gorillas in Central Africa on our blog.30

4 Responses
  1. Nonetheless, whale shark swimming in Oslob remains a great experience for all ages. If you do choose to take the side trip there you won’t be disappointed!

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