Chances are when you think of sharks your mind immediately goes to the image of an apex predator with razor-sharp teeth and a body made for hunting.
The bad rep sharks have to put up with due to how the film industry has portrayed them has undoubtedly hurt their populations worldwide.
However, there is at least one shark species that perfectly fits the description of a “gentle giant” and that is the majestic, awe-inspiring whale shark.
With a length of 15 m / 46 feet and a weight of around 15 tons, it’s hard to believe this colossal creature of the seas is harmless.
Not only is the whale shark non-dangerous but it’s possible to enjoy the experience of a lifetime and swim alongside these sublime fish.
Read on as today I bring you a complete guide on how to swim with whale sharks and live out your wildest underwater dream.
Is It OK To Swim With Whale Sharks?
It is perfectly OK to swim with whale sharks and it is commonly offered as a tourist attraction in many countries around the world.
If you’re seriously considering this amazing experience it’s important to keep a few things in mind to make sure your adventure is safe, as well as enjoyable for you and the whale sharks involved.
Choose the right tour operator
Before booking your trip do your research online and make sure you’re choosing a reputable operator as this is the only way to guarantee that the laws set in place to protect the whale sharks will be enforced.
It will also guarantee that safety measures are taken to ensure your well-being and that if there is an emergency (injury, drowning, freak accident, etc.) this operator will know exactly what to do to take you to safety ASAP.
Follow basic etiquette
Once in the water always remember no animal (or person really) likes to feel harassed or closed in on.
Always keep a safe space between you and the whale shark and let this noble creature make the first move to approach you and swim away when it feels like it.
Always stay at least 4 m / 13 feet away from the whale shark’s tail
Remember that no matter how gentle these fish are they are still extremely strong.
A slight movement of their tail could hit you as they’re trying to swim and it can do considerable harm.
The Best Months To Swim With Whale Sharks
Whale sharks can be found throughout the world’s tropical seas so the best month really depends on where in the world you want, or can, try to find these sharks.
I have compiled a list that could help you plan this adventure:
- October – March: Mozambique
- November – June: Philippines
- March – May / August – November: Honduras
- March – July: Australia
- April – May: Belize
- March – June / September – October: Thailand
- May – July: Egypt
- May – September: Mexico
- June – November: Ecuador (Galapagos Islands)
- September – November: Seychelles
- Year-round: Maldives
- November – February: Djibouti
Are Whale Sharks Dangerous To Swim With?
It’s perfectly safe to swim with whale sharks. There have been 0 deaths related to whale shark attacks and if that doesn’t convince you to book your trip of a lifetime let me tell you there have been 0 recorded incidents where a whale shark has purposely hurt a human.
Although whale sharks have around 3,000 teeth don’t let this large number fool you.
These teeth are smaller than 6 mm / 0.2 in. and these guys can’t bite or chew. These massive fish are filter feeders and their teeth are likely just the remnant of a very distant ancestor who ate larger prey.
Today the whale shark feeds on plankton, tiny shrimp, and small schooling fish via a vacuum system that sucks the tiny prey into its huge mouth and then filters out the water allowing the sharks to swallow their catch.
It’s physically impossible for the whale shark to eat you even if it tried.
However, it is important to keep in mind that whale sharks are HUGE and any animal has the potential to defend itself if it feels threatened in any way.
If you are ever around a whale shark it’s important always to show the utmost respect and never chase or harass an individual.
Something else to consider is that with such an incredible size comes incredible strength; a slight bump from one of these beautiful giants, even if accidental, could easily result in a serious injury to you so it’s essential to remain vigilant about where you and the shark are at all times.
The only recorded incident of a whale shark injuring a person occurred in 2020 off the coast of Australia as a woman was accidentally hit by the tail of a shark swimming by.
There was no ill intention from the shark but the woman still ended up in the hospital due to internal bleeding.
The snorkeler involved experienced a quick and full recovery.
What Not To Do When Swimming With Whale Sharks
Several things shouldn’t be done when swimming with whale sharks and a responsible tour operator will thoroughly explain all the rules.
Below you will find a few of the biggest no-nos:
Don’t feed them
This rule applies to any wild animal as it can be detrimental to their health as well as cause behavioral problems if they get used to handouts from people.
You will find many irresponsible tour operators who will feed these fish to make sure they come close to the tour boat.
Do not choose these operators under any circumstance.
Don’t position yourself under or over the whale shark
Always swim alongside these beautiful creatures and not directly above, or below. Remember not to swim too close to the tail, and never grab on to its dorsal fin or try to ride a whale shark.
Don’t “duck dive”
Be gentle when getting in the water, you don’t want to scare the whale shark or cause any distress.
I hope this guide has helped you plan the adventure of a lifetime and that you can fulfill all your whale shark dreams very soon!
Always remember to be respectful to the wildlife around you and choose operators that are reputable and responsible with regard to our ecosystems.
Until next time!
I am a lover of everything nature and animal related with over 15 years of experience in the field of wildlife rescue and education. Currently living in Colombia working with wild and domestic animals and spending all my free time writing about them 🙂