The Whale Shark, ( Rhincodon typus ) is not actually a whale, as the name suggests, but the largest fish alive today. It's a friendly filter feeder fish that mainly lives on plankton and can grow to lengths of 40 feet, and can weigh up to 47,000 pounds. It is a visually exciting fish, being predominantly dark in colour with paler dots and patterns over the remainder of its body. And is often considered to be top of the diver's to do list!
The Whale Shark is a very gentle fish, which makes them great to swim and dive around as long as you take care not to be too aggressive, as that will scare them away. Be gentle with them. Wait till they come to you and this encounter between giant fish and you will be one of the most memorable ones of your holiday if not in fact your life! So little is actually known about the daily existence of the Whale Shark but they have been classed as 'Vulnerable' by The World Conservation Union.
Most tourists are not aware that in recent years the Whale Shark has been under serious threat because of the demand of the Asian meat market. Fortunately, to stop this from occurring in Maldivian waters the Maldives government has created a protected area.
Visitors to the protected area will have to abide by regulations limiting visitors in the area and the dive boat. Since these guidelines came into effect in 2008 the community has been made aware how important protecting the Whale Shark is – and not just on the self-serving level of protecting income levels! Dive schools rely on the whale shark and the manta ray in particular to draw divers and snorkellers into the area and its added on 'knock on' effects to the resorts. Hopefully, this aggregation area will also prevent the amount of speed boat accidents that have increased on the sharks. They are very slow creatures and swim carefully on the surface. The areas protected are: Baa atoll Hanifaru, Baa atoll An'gafaru and Alif Dhaal atoll Maamigili.
To see a shark with its fin almost severed completely away in a botched operation to steal the fin is heartbreaking - both for the researchers and caring locals. A shark fin can sell for up to $10,000 (£6,600) in Taiwan or Hong Kong, and is also used as interesting advertising board outside a restaurant serving popular shark fin soup. Hopefully this trade is now decreasing in the Maldives, and we can only hope other countries follow suit.
Where to find them:
In tropical and sub-tropical oceans throughout the world – however, the Maldives is one of the few places Whale Sharks can be found all year round, mainly on the southern atolls. Here, around South Ari Atoll, diver and snorkellers swim daily with these huge gentle creatures.
The largest Whale Shark's cavernous mouth can grow to a huge 5ft in width! The fish's lovely pale spots are individual and identify each one. The shark has five enormous gills and two small eyes at the front of his head. The Whale Shark is not a fast or even efficient swimmer; fastest speed around 3mph! They have been reports of them reaching 23 feet in length but this is considered rare.
The Whale Shark and Ecology
Naturally, the world's biggest fish is under threat of extinction. The World Conservation Union lists them as 'vulnerable', mainly because its meat is considered gourmet across Asia and the Whale Shark is such a slow lumbering beast in everything it does so sadly it simply can't grow quickly enough to outmatch human taste for its flesh.
If you come mainly to dive and see Whale Sharks you won't be disappointed. If you come and happen to have an encounter with these beautiful majestic fish you'll take home fabulous memories
Some other sharks found in the Maldives:
Tiger Shark (avoid!)
Hammerhead shark (can be aggressive if threatened)
Starspotted smooth-hound shark
Oceanic whitetip shark
Blacktip reef shark
Kitefin shark Sliteye shark
Bluntnose sixgill shark
Sicklefin lemon shark
Tawny nurse shark
Grey reef shark
Whitetip reef shark
Small tooth sand tiger shark
Bigeye thresher shark
Sharpnose sevengill shark