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The Ultimate Whale Shark Diving Guide: 20 of the World’s Best Locations, Seasons and How to Dive Them

Whale Sharks are circumtropical planktivorous sharks, meaning they are found in all of the world’s tropical oceans (as well as subtropical zones) and feed on plankton. 

They are gentle giants, the largest fish in the sea, and one of only three planktivorous sharks, the other two being Basking and Megamouth Sharks. 

Whale shark diving is safe and can be done in locations throughout the tropics and subtropics–from Mexico to the East Coast of Africa–either scuba diving or snorkeling. 

Whale sharks, along with manta rays, are undoubtedly one of the most sought-after megafauna for divers, and a whale shark diving adventure is likely on the bucket list of most casual and seasoned divers and snorkelers. 

The below article will explain where and when you can expect to see whale sharks in different scuba diving and snorkeling destinations around the globe. 

What draws Whale Sharks to coastal waters?

According to scientists at the Marine Megafauna Foundation:

“Coastal aggregations of Rhincodon typus around the world are generally seasonal and driven by prey availability.”

They go on to say that 

“Whale shark aggregations in the tropics and subtropics usually coincide with seasonal biological events, such as fish or crab spawning events (Meekan et al., 2009; de la Parra Venegas et al., 2011; Robinson et al., 2013) driven by oceanographic and climatic processes. 

One of these processes, which frequently draws congregations of Whale Sharks into coastal waters around the world, is upwelling. 

Upwelling brings colder, nutrient-rich water from the deeper ocean to the surface, which creates favourable conditions for zooplankton populations (e.g., crustacean larvae) that the sharks feed upon. 

This is why areas of coastal Mozambique (a place I will cover below), that experience a multitude of constant upwelling events, attract higher numbers of whale sharks and other pelagic fish year-round. 

Now that you know a bit more about the seasonality of Whale Sharks and what draws them to specific regions, let’s cover some of the most popular Whale Shark diving destinations around the world. 

Surin Islands, Thailand

While it’s possible to see the largest fish in the sea in Thailand all year long, most sightings occur in March and April. 

While you CAN, technically, see Whale Sharks in Thailand at dive sites throughout the country, the most prolific Whale Shark destination are the Surin Islands, part of Mu Ko Surin National Park, home to what are widely considered Thailand’s most developed reefs, off in the Andaman Sea.

Time of year

While, like most places around the world, you can see Whale Sharks in Thailand year-round (if you’re lucky, of course), the ideal time of year to target Whale Sharks if you’re a snorkeler or diver is March-April. 

This is for two interrelated reasons. 

The first is that the best place to see Whale Sharks in Thailand is, as mentioned, the Surin Islands in the Andaman Sea and after April, when the monsoon season begins, the Andaman is too treacherous. 

The second, interrelated part of the answer is that the best way to visit the Surins is on a liveabord. 

Most of the liveaboards that traverse the Andaman stop operating during the monsoon season. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

Lucky scuba divers and snorkelers come across Whale Sharks in Thailand all the time, but always by blind luck. 

Wildlife spotting always involves a bit of luck, no matter how you slice it, but if you hit the Surins on a liveaboard during peak Whale Shark season (March-April), the odds are more in your favour. 

The Surins (big surprise) are home to some of the biggest upwelling phenomena in the Thai Andaman. 

How to get to the Surins

Getting to the Surins is pretty straightforward. 

Most of Thailand’s liveaboards leave from either Pukhet or Thamu Lap Pier, near Khao Lak in Phang Nga. 

The easiest way, of course, is to fly into Phuket directly, and you’re already there, or you fly into somewhere like Krabi and make your way a few hours to Phuket, OR, you can bus from anywhere else in the country. 

Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia

Indonesia is synonymous with marine life and there is an abundance of incredible dive and snorkel sites in this country from West to East–from Sabang in Sumatra to Raja Ampat in West Papua. 

One of, if not the best, places to see adult Whale Sharks in Indonesia, however, is Cenderawasih, off the northern coast of West Papua. 

Unlike many of the other Whale Shark sites on this list, the sharks here congregate to feed on anchovies (small fish also make up part of the Whale Shark diet). 

There are small mobile fishing platforms throughout places like Kwatisore Bay in Cenderawasih that can attract up to 13 sharks at a time–undoubtedly one of the most incredible Whale Shark gathering phenomena in the Indo-Pacific. 

Time of year

Cenderawasih is so popular because whale sharks are resident here year-long. 

That said, the best time to see Whale Sharks in Cenderawasih is July through November

Liveabord or dive resort

The best way to visit Cenderawasih is via liveaboard. 

How to get to Cenderawasih

Most of the liveaboards visiting Cenderawasih leave from Sorong, the main city on the Bird’s Head Peninsula and the biggest city in Raja Ampat. 

You pretty much have to connect through Jakarta to get here. 

Ningaloo Reef, Australia

After the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is without a doubt the next most impressive in Australia, and probably the entire Indian Ocean. 

It stretches 160 miles (260km) down the west coast of Australia and is one of the most beautiful reef ecosystems in the world. 

It is also a world-class Whale Shark diving destination, as well as a prime Humpback Whale watching and Manta Ray diving site. 

Time of year

The best time to snorkel and scuba dive with Whale Sharks in Ningaloo is during Australia’s fall months, from March to June. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to dive with whale sharks in Ningaloo is on a liveaboard or at one of the local dive resorts.

How to get to Ningaloo Reef

It’s pretty easy to access Ningaloo from anywhere in Australia. Coral Bay and Exmouth are the two main hubs in the region, and both can be reached from Learmouth Airport. 

Gulf of Tadjoura, Djibouti

Djibouti is a small Horn of Africa country, where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, and, while not on the radar of most dive tourists, it offers a unique Whale Shark scuba diving opportunity. 

This is because the Gulf of Tadjoura acts as a nursery for juvenile Whale Sharks (4-6m long), where they gather to feed and shelter in the warm coastal waters.

The strong Indian Ocean currents (which tend to make Djibouti a destination for more advanced scuba divers) are also a great place to spot Manta Rays, whales and dolphins. While the coral cover isn’t amazing here, the reefs are quite healthy compared to a lot of the East African Reefs further south. 

Whale shark diving in Djibouti is some of the best in Africa

Time of Year

November through February, when seasonal plankton blooms attract the Sharks to the area en masse, are the best months for whale shark encounters. 

Liveabord or dive resort

Djibouti doesn’t have any dive resorts to speak of, so the only way to see whale sharks in the Gulf of Aden is to hop on a liveaboard. 

How to get to Djibouti

Most of the liveaboards departing for Djibouti will be leaving from Egypt (Sharm el Sheikh or Marsa Alam). 

Tofo Beach, Mozambique

As I touched on at the outset of this article, Whale Sharks tend to congregate where upwelling brings nutrient-rich cold water from the deep ocean to the surface, creating favourable conditions for zooplankton. 

The coast of Mozambique is a world-renowned Whale Shark diving and study location because of the near-constant upwelling events year long. 

All of the plankton also attracts other filter feeders like manta rays and humpback whales, as well an abundance of big pelagic fish like Marlin and Tuna chasing the smaller baitfish (anchovies and sardines) that are attracted to the Zooplankton. 

Whale shark season

Whale shark season in Mozambique, and Tofo Beach in particular, is from June to January. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see whale sharks off Tofo Beach is to stay at a dive resort. 

How to get to Tofo Beach

The most straightforward way to get to Tofo is to fly to Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, and then bus to Tofo Beach. 

Mafia Island, Tanzania

Mafia Island is a small island off the coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean, and it is the best and really the only place to reliably see Whale Sharks in the country. 

A relatively unknown dive destination, it attracts aggregations of juvenile sharks that come for the high prey availability. 

Time of year

The best time to see Whale Sharks is between October and March. 

Liveabord or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks around Mafia Island is to stay at a Tanzanian dive resort. 

How to get to Mafia Island

You can get to Mafia Island from Dar es Salaam by short domestic flight or by ferry (from the mainland or Zanzibar).

Mahé, Seychelles

The Seychelles are located around 800km northeast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.

A destination for both fun-and-sun seekers as well as divers, Mahé, Seychelles’ largest island, is the best destination for Whale Sharks in the archipelago. 

Time of Year

Whale shark migration routes take them through Seychelles between August and November, with October generally being the best month to dive with them off Mahé. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

Staying at a dive resort in Seychelles is the best way to see Whale Sharks here. 

How to get to Mahé 

Because Seychelles is a popular luxury tourism destination, there are plenty of direct flights from regional airports: 

  • Dubai
  • Addis Ababa
  • Doha
  • Abu Dhabi
  • Nairobi
  • Istanbul
  • Mauritius 
  • Johannesburg
  • Moscow

Sodwana Bay, South Africa

South Africa isn’t known as an international dive destination nearly as much as it is known for its Big 5 safaris, but, in addition to great cold water diving along the Sunshine Coast, South Africa also boats some impressive Whale Shark diving. 

Time of year

Whale Shark season in Sodwana Bay is between November and April, with December to February the best months. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

Staying at and diving out of a dive resort is the best way to see Whale Sharks in Sodwana. 

How to get to Sodwana Bay

Getting to Sodwana Bay involves flying into Johannesburg and then making your way overland 500+ kilometres to the southwest or flying to the Richard’s Bay domestic airport from Johannesburg. 

Hurghada, Sharm-el-Sheikh, Marsa Alam, Egypt

Egypt is a world-renowned scuba diving/snorkeling destination as well as the best place in the Red Sea to see Whale Sharks. 

You might even spot a Whale Shark swimming close to popular tourist beaches along Egypt’s coast. 

Time of year

You can get lucky and see Whale Sharks throughout the year in the Red Sea, but the main Whale Shark season in Egypt is May through August

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in Egypt is on a liveaboard. They leave from the aforementioned destinations–Sharm-el-Sheikh, Hurghada and Marsa Alam.

How to get to Egypt

There are limited international flights to all three of the Egypt locations listed above, although it is more likely that you will have to connect through Cairo. 

Donsol Bay, Philippines

I hesitate to recommend Whale Shark diving in the Philippines because of how unregulated and, in a lot of cases, unethical it is. 

The Philippines (like Thailand) is a prime example of the revolting effects of mass tourism (especially its impact on wildlife), and you do have to search a bit harder to find nature and wildlife tourism experiences you can feel good about. 

Which is why I’ve chosen Donsol Bay. 

There are plenty of other places in the Philippines where you can swim with Whale Sharks, but Donsol Bay is more regulated, in addition to being one of the best places in the country. It is sometimes even referred to as the “Whale Shark Capital” of the world.

You can’t actually dive with Whale Sharks here, only snorkel. 

Time of year

Whale Shark season in the Philippines runs from December through May, which is when Whale Shark migration brings them into Philippine waters, with February to April peak season

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in Donsol Bay is to stay at a dive resort. 

Hot to get to Donsol Bay

To get to Donsol Bay, you’ll need to catch a domestic flight from Manila to Legaspi and then bus. 

Or, if you are really on a budget, you can catch a very long bus from Manila. 

South Ari Atoll, Maldives

The Maldives is a cluster of 26 atolls and 1,192 coral islands about 1,000km off the coast of Sri Lanka, in the middle of the Indian Ocean. 

It is one of (if not the most) spectacular scuba diving and snorkel destinations in the Indian Ocean, and it is a fantastic place to swim with Whale Sharks. 

Juvenile Whale Sharks gather off South Ari in the warm tropical waters to feed and take refuge from predators. 

In the last decade, the Maldive Whale Shark Research Programme has recorded 571 different individuals, over the course of 8000 unique whale shark sightings, throughout the Maldives. 

Time of year

The Maldives is remarkable because Whale Sharks are present in their waters in equal numbers all year long. 

May to September is the wet season, which is when the weather is at its worst, so this is likely the least opportune time for Whale Shark tours in the Maldives. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

Dive resort or liveaboard trips, both offer fabulous opportunities for swimming with Whale Sharks throughout the Maldives. 

How to get there

To get to the South Ari Atoll, you need to fly to Male, the capital of the Maldives and then transfer via seaplane and/or ferry. 

Mayan Riviera, Mexico

The Mayan Riviera is at the very bottom of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, the northern tip of the Mesoamerican Reef, and it offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the tropical Atlantic. 

In particular, Isla Holbox, Isla Contoy and Isla Mujeres–three stunning islands just off the Mexican mainland–and fantastic places to snorkel with Whale Sharks. 

“Snorkel” is the operative word here because you are, in the majority of cases, not permitted to dive with Whale Sharks. 

Diving is often too stressful on the sharks, especially while breeding, because it lets people get too close. In a place like Mexico, which is so easily accessible and affected by mass tourism, swimming with Whale Sharks merits tight regulation. 

Time of year

Whale Shark season along Mexico’s Mayan Riviera coast is from mid-May to mid-September, and outside of these months it is actually illegal to swim with or bother Whale Sharks in any way. 

July-August is the peak of this season, and you can often see 30 to 40 animals on a single excursion. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in the Mexican Caribbean is to stay at a dive resort (or anywhere) along the coast. 

Plenty of dive operators offer Whale Watching tours out of places like Cozumel, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum. 

How to get there

Getting to the Mayan Riviera involves flying into either Cancun (which has an international airport) or Mexico City and then onwards to Cancun. 

Baja California Sur, Mexico

Baja California Sur, the bottom half of the Baja Peninsula, is the site of some of the most prolific and nutrient-rich seas in the world. 

In particular, La Paz, Cabo San Lucas and Cabo Pulmo National Park in the Sea of Cortez are prime Whale Shark observation destinations along Mexico’s tropical Pacific coast. 

Baja California Sur is also a great place to see cetaceans and large pelagic fish like Sailfish and Tuna. 

Bear in mind that in subtropical places like Baja California, the prime Whale Shark season occurs in the middle of the winter, when water temperatures can hit below 70F (21C).

Dive shops and liveaboards will have wetsuits for you, but if you’re there just to snorkel, it’s a good idea to use a 3mm wetsuit to stay comfortable in these temps.

Time of year

Whale Shark season in Baja between November and May. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

Liveaboards are the best way to see Whale Sharks in Baja California. 

How to get there

Getting to Baja California Sur is pretty straightforward. San Juan del Cabo, Loreto and La Paz all have international airports. 

Utila, Honduras

The Caribbean coast of Honduras features a long stretch of the Mesoamerican Reef and offers Whale Shark lovers the opportunity to swim with the graceful giants, particularly around the small island of Utila. 

Whale Sharks are most often found along the north coast of the island, where the shallow reef meets the open Caribbean Sea. 

Utila is such a renowned Whale Shark watching destination that it is home to the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre

Time of year

While it is possible to see Whale Sharks all year in Utila, the ideal time is between March and April, which features the largest concentrations of sharks. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in Utila is to stay at one of the local dive resorts–either on the island or one of the neighbouring islands. 

How to get there

Getting to Utila involves flying to either Roatan or San Pedro Sula and then catching a ferry or a domestic flight to Utila. 

Gladden Spit, Belize

Belize is the beating heart of the Mesoamerican Reef and the marquis snorkeling and diving destination in the Caribbean, so, of course, it is a phenomenal place to see Whale Sharks. 

The best place to see this is the Gladden Spit, a sandbar and part of the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve, about 36km off the coast of mainland Belize. 

Time of year

The best time to see the sharks in the Gladden spit is between March and June, when Mutton Snapper and Grouper are spawning, and the sharks come to feed on the eggs. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in Belize is to book a stay at one of the country’s many dive resorts. Most, if not all, will offer trips to the marine reserve. 

How to get there

Most of the boats going the Gladden Spit and Silk Cayes Marine Reserve leave from the mainland Belizan town of Placencia. 

To get to Placencia, you either fly into Belize City and then travel overland or catch a domestic flight.

Guanacaste & Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Guanacaste, in Costa Rica’s northwest, is a marine paradise, where Devil Rays, sea turtles, Bull Sharks, dolphins and Whale Sharks are often seen at places like Catalina and Bat Islands Marine Park. 

For more experienced divers and people with the time to do a 36-hour liveaboard journey from the Costa Rican mainland, Cocos Island National Park is a world-famous hammerhead dive site, which also features, among other things, regular Whale Shark sightings. 

Time of year

Between June and November, when there are large plankton blooms, is the best time to see Whale Sharks in Costa Rican waters. 

Liveaboard or dive resort

The best way to see Whale Sharks in Costa Rica is to book a spot on a liveaboard. 

How to get there

Most of Costa Rica’s liveaboards depart from Puntarenas, which is an hour and a half drive from San Jose (or a short domestic flight), with a few also departing from Puerto Pedregal in Panama. 

Honorable mentions

It’s important to reiterate that because Whale Sharks are circumtropical creatures, there really is no telling when and where they will show up. 

Their migratory paths take them into calm waters and protected areas and out into open ocean. 

Of course, chasing upwellings and protected, nutrient-rich waters are always the best way to find Whale Sharks. 

Here are a few other places that offer great Whale Shark diving and snorkeling opportunities: 

  • Isla Coiba, Panama
  • Galapagos Islands, Ecuador (with giant female whale sharks gather)
  • Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia 
  • Gorgona and Malpelo, Colombia

Happy Whale Shark watching and always keep the sharks’ best interests at heart.