Updated: Aug 8, 2021
The biggest fish in the ocean, encountering a whale shark during a dive is an awesome experience and one very few divers are likely to forget. Often materializing suddenly out in the blue, individuals as long as 50 feet (15m) can appear without warning and pass in a matter of seconds, making you wonder whether it was a figment of your imagination.
Despite living much of their lives as solitary pelagic nomads, there are some places in the world where whale sharks congregate in huge numbers once a year to feed and breed. In these destinations, it is normally only permissible to swim or snorkel with the sharks to minimize disruption. Although they are found in tropical waters throughout the world, encountering a whale shark is a rare and sought-after experience.
So where are the best places to dive and the best places to snorkel with whale sharks?
Dive with Whale Sharks
One of the best places in the world for whale shark diving is the islands of Wolf and Darwin in the Galapagos. As the northernmost islands in the archipelago, the water is slightly warmer, and this coupled with nutrient-rich upwellings encourages plankton blooms between June and November each year. This is the prime time to spot dozens of whale sharks attracted to feed on the plankton soup.
Similarly, Socorro Island, 240 miles off the coast of Mexico, attracts whale sharks to its nutrient-rich waters in November and December each year. Individuals are often accompanied by big schools of jack, dolphins, and manta rays, making for an awesome spectacle.
Offering a different experience altogether, Cenderawasih Bay in Indonesia is the only place in the world with a resident population of whale sharks. For many years, local fishermen have thrown scraps from their nets to whale sharks in the bay, and this has now become a tourist attraction. Such a concentration of sharks in close proximity, and the unlimited time divers can spend with them, combine to create an exceptional experience and some truly epic photo opportunities.
Snorkel with Whale Sharks
Where whale sharks gather in large numbers, so too do tourists keen to encounter them. As such, most whale shark snorkeling experiences are tightly regulated to reduce the impact of humans on the sharks. One of the best places in the world to snorkel with whale sharks is Mexico, and three destinations in the country really stand out. Whale sharks gather in the summer months around Isla Mujeres on the Yucatan Peninsula, and in the Bahia de Los Angeles in the very northern Sea of Cortez. And in October and November, they can be found in record-breaking numbers in the Bay of La Paz on the Baja California Peninsula.
Oslob in the Philippines is another excellent spot for snorkeling with whale sharks. The diving in nearby Moalboal and Dauin is world-class, and many local resorts also organize excursions to dive with whale sharks.
Have you dived or snorkeled with whale sharks? Where would you like to visit to encounter these awesome fish?
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