The mighty whale shark is a sight to behold and on every diver’s wish-to-see list. This gigantic, filter-feeding shark is the largest known fish, hence the name.
The best places to see whale sharks
Whale sharks effortlessly cruise the oceans between the Northern and Southern hemispheres – here are the best places to see them.
Darwin Arch, Galapagos, Ecuador
The outmost island of the famous archipelago, Darwin Island is located quite far northwest and lies on a jagged, submerged plateau commonly referred to as “the theatre”. Considered as the pinnacle of diving in the Galapagos Islands, it is only accessible by liveaboard and conditions are difficult requiring advanced certification and experience. June through December is whale shark season.
South Ari Atoll, Maldives
South Ari Atoll in the Maldives, is one of the premium sites for whale shark spotting. The Indian Ocean proper extends out from the southern shore of the island. Here, on a 5 to 10 m (15 to 30 ft) plateau is the place for an encounter with these gigantic, gentle creatures. It is possible to see whale sharks here all year round, with a better chance between June and December. Dive conditions are good and it is also possible to snorkel.
Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Rich plankton deposits off the coast of this small piece of laid-back paradise, make it a major whale shark station in Africa. Sightings of large schools of these creatures are possible and the best time to go is between October and March. Dive conditions are generally good, with clear and warm water. In cyclone season between February and May, seas can get choppy and dive operators may not launch the boats. On the deeper dives, there can be strong currents. Advanced certification and experience in drift diving and negative entry is recommended. When the sea is calm you can see the whale sharks by snorkeling too.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
Whale shark sightings off the Mexican Baja Peninsula in the Sea of Cortez are a regular event. You can organize snorkeling trips to see them from La Paz, the capital. The best places to spot them are La Paz, Cabo San Lucas, and Cabo Pulmo National Park and the Sea of Cortez liveaboards often visit all three sites. Gaining more popularity is Bahia de Los Angeles, where whale sharks are occasionally be seen on a dive. This area is suitable for both beginner and advanced divers. The best time to see them here is from January to April.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico (snorkeling only)
One of the world’s best places to see whale sharks is at Isla Mujeres off the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Hundreds of them stop off to feed off the plankton at the junction of the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico on their long migration route. Scuba is not allowed at this site and it is well regulated. The best time to see whale sharks here is from June to September.
Similan Islands, Thailand
From a liveaboard in the Similan Islands, you have an excellent chance of seeing whale sharks especially at Richelieu Rock, Koh Bon Pinnacle and Koh Tachai Pinnacle. This incredible archipelago in the Andaman Sea is quite exposed to currents, especially the main whale shark spots. Advanced certification and experience diving with currents is advised. Whale shark season in the Similan Islands is in the high season from February to May.
Donsol Bay, Philippines (snorkeling only)
For a natural, eco-friendly whale shark experience in the Philippines, Donsol Bay is the best bet. Scuba is not allowed at this particular site, but you can snorkel with them here. If you are lucky, you can see them while diving at nearby sites like Manta Bowl. Hundreds of whale sharks make their way to Donsol Bay from November to June on their migration routes with peak season being February to April.
Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua, Indonesia
In the largest marine park in Indonesia, on the north side of West Papua, is the huge Cenderawasih Bay. It is also where a research and conservation center for whale sharks is found. The nearby village of Kwantisore is the place to head to for whale shark sightings and scuba experiences with them. Whale sharks can be seen here all year round with peak season being August to October.
Everything you ever wanted to know about whale sharks
- The whale shark is the biggest fish on the planet
- Technically sharks, they are harmless and feed on plankton
- They can grow as long as 18m (59f), weigh up to 34 tons and live to 100 years
- They can dive more than one kilometer deep and travel for thousands of miles
- Whale shark numbers are declining and they are on the endangered species list
- Each whale shark has unique markings that make them easy for scientists to identify them. The markings are usually dots or stripes
- Whale sharks do have teeth, about 3,000 of them, but they are tiny and not used for feeding