To snorkel with Whale Sharks in their natural habitat is a breathtaking and a very rewarding experience.
The whale shark is the biggest ‘Shark’ and fish in the ocean. You do have to understand that this is NOT a whale (which simply refers to its size) – it is a shark but a a very gentle giant.
The whale shark has a huge mouth that can open up to 1.4 meters wide but feeds on krill and plankton.
The Whale Shark has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, small eyes, five large gill slits, two dorsal fins which are on its back and two pectoral fins which are on its sides. The spiracle, located behind the shark’s eyes is the vestigial first gill slit used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor. It’s tail has a top fin much larger than the lower fin.
Whale Sharks are passive creatures and can be disturbed by aggressive behavior such as being touched or chased. We need to take responsibility to ensure the survival of these creatures for future generations. This means that causing minimal disturbance to the sharks when we approach them by
boat or when diving. Although the whale sharks are harmless, their sheer size makes it necessary to exercise caution around them, especially at its tail end.
Snorkelers need to be aware of local regulations or protocols that are set by the dive organization regarding the behavior around the whale shark before entering the water. A Code of Conduct was created by the Marine Megafauna Foundation to ensure the safety of both you as the diver and the whale shark. The following is the general code of conduct for swimming and diving with whale sharks in all countries:
Do not touch, ride or chase a whale shark
Do not restrict normal movement or behavior of the whale shark
Maintain a minimum distance of 3m from the whale shark’s side 5m from it’s nose and a 4m from its tail end
Do not use a flash when taking photos
Do not use underwater motorized driver propulsions
Please see the full Code of Conduct graphic below:
When in the contact zone of a whale shark:
All vessels should take care when in the contact zone to avoid physically impacting the whale shark
or scaring it away
One vessel can operate within the contact zone at any time. All other vessels to use boat power
as necessary to avoid violation into the contact zone while another vessel is busy
The first that is in the contact zone are seen to be ‘in contact’ despite the position of any of the
other vessels. The second vessel to arrive in the general surrounding area may queue outside
the contact zone to have access to the shark. All other vessels are to uphold a distance of 300
meters from the contacted shark or should make the effort to locate another shark
Licensed Vessels can remain ‘in contact’ with the shark for a maximum of 30 minutes from the
time of the first entry into the water
If there are 2 or more sharks found within 150 meters from each other, the limit of the vessel ‘in
contact’ will apply to both sharks until they separate by more than 150 meters
In the event that there are 2 or more whale sharks ‘in contact’ with the snorkelers from different
vessels, move within 150 meters from each other, the skippers and dive masters must co-operate to ensure the safety of the whale shark and swimmers.
When in the water snorkeling with the whale shark/s:
All vessel operators that the ‘in water’ activities of swimmers comply with the following:
The whale sharks should be observed for a few minutes before the swimmers enter the water to
determine the direction of travel and behavior of the shark. It’s advised that the skipper or dive
master first get the relevant sighting data before the interaction with swimmers
Snorkelers must treat all whale sharks with caution at all times. Although the shark appear to be
‘Gentle Giants’ they can cause serious injury if the swimmer is struck with its tail or fins.
Snorkelers should NOT TOUCH a whale shark under any circumstances and must maintain a
minimum distance of at least 3 meters from the shark
Snorkelers must not try to block a whale shark from its chosen direction of movement
‘Flash’ photography should be used with caution, if at all, and NEVER from underneath the shark
(it is recommended that flash be banned from use as the effects on whale sharks is not known)
The maximum number of snorkelers to be with a whale shark at any time is 10 snorkelers
Snorkelers may not use dive scooters or other motorized propulsion aid to swim within the
contact zone of the whale shark
The following refers as the rules for all vessels and the Guide’s management of snorkelers:
Vessels or their tenders may not approach within 30 meters of a whale shark and must move at
a slow speed in the contact zone
Vessels that approach from ahead of a whale shark’s direction of movement must drop their
swimmers no less than 30 meters from the approaching shark and must move out of the path of
NOT MORE than 11 passengers may be carried on any Licensed