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Four Of The World’s Best Whale Shark Destinations

There’s no doubt that the whale shark is not only one of the most charismatic marine species in the world, but also that it is one of the dive community’s very favorites. Perhaps it’s the combination of its great size with its peaceful, docile nature; perhaps it’s the challenge that they offer underwater photographers, or maybe it’s just the sheer wonder of swimming alongside one of the ocean’s most enigmatic, impressive creatures. Whatever their charm is, it’s a fact that the whale shark holds the number one spot on many divers’ bucket list, and that each year, thousands of people travel far and wide just to encounter them in their natural habitat. There are a few very special places on this planet where whale sharks are seen with rare reliability; here is a list of five of our favorites*.

1. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
The prospect of scuba diving in Mexico holds many attractions, not least of which is the world’s largest whale shark aggregation. The Quintana Roo province is home to several fantastic spots for encountering these magnificent animals, but in recent years the island of Isla Mujeres has earned a reputation as the best of them all. In 2009, 420 whale sharks were spotted simultaneously from the air in the waters near the island, setting a record for the most ever seen at one time. Drawn by the spawning of the little tunny, the whale sharks can be seen at Isla Mujeres from June to September, in clear, deep water. Although never guaranteed, visitors during those months are likely to see several sharks on a single trip, while common sightings of manta rays and other passing pelagics provide an added bonus.

2. Praiha do Tofo, Mozambique
This idyllic beach town in Inhambane province undoubtedly constitutes one of the highlights of diving Mozambique. As well as offering spectacular reefs with a staggering level of biodiversity, Tofo is a true mecca for whale shark fanatics. There, local operators run ocean safaris to meet the area’s sharks and mantas, which are present in the area year round. Although Tofo can’t match Isla Mujeres for the sheer number of whale sharks that grace its waters, October to March certainly sees impressive concentrations, sometimes numbering more than twenty individuals. Tofo is a special place in its own right, however- thanks to its remote location and its relative lack of development, whale shark encounters here are likely to be among the least crowded and therefore most natural in the world.

3. Donsol, Philippines
Philippines diving is famous for shark encounters- namely, for the thresher sharks of Malapascua Island, and for the whale sharks of Donsol and Oslob. Visitors to the Philippines have a choice when it comes to seeing whale sharks- on the one hand, they can be seen from time to time at many of the country’s dive sites on scuba. For those wanting a more concrete probability of seeing the giant fish, however, the towns of Donsol and Oslob provide whale shark hotspots on Luzon and Cebu islands respectively. While Oslob may boast a greater number of sharks, they are enticed to the area because they are fed by local fishermen- a practice that is controversial in terms of its impact on whale shark populations. If you’re looking for a more organic and more conservation friendly experience, make your way to Donsol instead. As an added bonus, the Philippines is definitely a good choice for those on a budget, where whale shark tours are amazingly affordable.

4. Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia
Cenderawasih Bay is probably the least well-known destination on this list, and one of Indonesia’s best kept secrets. In a country famous for its diving, Cenderawasih Bay is something of a phenomenon located on the northern coast of Papua to the far east of the archipelago. There, whale sharks gather to feed from floating platforms used by local fishermen to sift small baitfish from the water- incredibly, the fishermen and the sharks seem to happily coexist and the bay is home to some very large sharks, with an average size of 40 feet. Because the sharks are so busy taking their taxes from the floating platforms, visitors can get very close indeed. The bay is also home to some beautiful sights typical of diving Indonesia, with highlights including dugongs, World War II wrecks and an incredible array of marine life.

* It is worth noting that in each of these places, whale shark encounters happen via snorkel, rather than on scuba.