Swim with Whale Sharks
I’ve loved water and the beach as long as I can remember. I’ve also been an animal lover for just as long. Put those things together and it’s no surprise that one of my favorite things is to experience animals up close and personal.
The first time I saw a whale shark was at the Atlantis on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. I was awed at the size and beauty of this gentle, filter feeding creature. From that day forward, swimming with whale sharks joined my bucket list.
Many people don’t realize that whale sharks aren’t whales at all. They’re sharks. People are often surprised by this because we think of sharks as aggressive animals with big teeth and whale sharks aren’t aggressive and they don’t have big teeth. Whale sharks are also the largest fish in the oceans (Blue whales are the largest mammal in the ocean and are bigger than whale sharks.).
Swim with Whale Sharks in Captivity
Whenever I’m in Atlanta, I visit Georgia Aquarium – a destination I highly recommend. On my very first visit, I saw that people can swim with their whale sharks. From that moment, I knew it was something I had to do it.
I was excited about swimming in Georgia Aquarium’s whale shark habitat, but had no idea what to expect. The day of my encounter, I got to the aquarium early to explore. Then, when it was time for the program, we went through some interesting information, safety instructions, and changed into aquarium provided wetsuits.
Finally, the moment I’d been waiting for. Getting in the water! In addition to whale sharks, Ocean Voyager’s enormous habitat holds manta rays (another of my bucket list animals), gigantic grouper (a fish my diving friends tell me they’re more afraid of than sharks), blacktip reef sharks, epaulette sharks, sandbar sharks, green sea turtles (I’ve swum with them in the wild. So beautiful and endangered.), a variety of other rays, and a large number of different reef fish.
In the end, I enjoyed this experience enormously. Being close to that many amazing ocean creatures is something that’s unlikely to happen in the wild. I would call it a once in a lifetime experience, except it was so fantastic I want to do it again.
Respect the Animals and Your Safety
It would be irresponsible of me to write an article about swimming with whale sharks – or any other animal – in the wild without mentioning their safety and your safety. Although whale sharks are gentle creatures, they are still wild animals. Keep a safe distance from them. Don’t feed them anything, take flash pictures, or touch them. If we don’t make their well-being a priority, we run the risk of harming an entire species and depriving others of a bucket list experience.
Where to Swim with Whale Sharks in the Wild
Although I’ve already experienced swimming with whale sharks, I still want to swim with them in the wild. If you’re interested in swimming with whale sharks in the wild too, these are the top places and seasons to do it.
Isla Holbox, Mexico
Whale sharks feed and mate here from June to September. Peak viewing season is July and August.
The greatest number of whale sharks arrive between March and April. They’re back again from September to Christmas, but in fewer numbers.
Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Whale sharks feed here between mid-March and July.
Gladden Spit, Belize
April and May are the most consistent months for sightings with most whale sharks spotted a few days after a full moon.
Donsol Bay, Philippines
Whale sharks arrive between November and June. Peak season is from February to April.
Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Whale sharks are seen here from October to March.
South Mahé, Seychelles
Whale sharks migrate past Mahé between August and November, with sightings peaking in October.
Koh Tao, Thailand
Whale sharks have been spotted here year-round, but especially from April to June.
South Ari Atoll, Maldives
“Whale sharks are year-round residents of the Maldives, tending to favor the western side of the Indian Ocean archipelago from May to December, then heading to the east until April. South Ari Atoll is a Marine Protected Area.” (Lonely Planet)
To many joyful beach experiences!
— Lisa Dworkin