Where can I snorkel with Whale Sharks?

by Mihai Pinzariu on September 25, 2019

Ever wanted to snorkel with a whale shark? We don’t know many snorkelers who don’t have swimming with whale sharks on the top of their bucket list. These beautiful creatures are the largest fish in the ocean, majestically gliding through the seas usually solo. Humans know very little about their lifespan or habits, and what better way to discover more than by getting up close and personal with one!

Here’s a list of the best places where you can snorkel with whale sharks, and when’s the best time to go. Many of these spots will have licensed tour operators that can take you to the best spots, and some places are so popular with whale sharks that you can see them all year round!

Snorkelling with whale sharks in Africa

Tadjoura Gulf, Djibouti

Once a year, huge numbers of whale sharks will migrate past this gulf to feed on plankton, giving you the chance to snorkel with them up close. There are plenty of diving and snorkel tours in Djibouti to take you straight to the feeding grounds where you can snorkel with whale sharks and see these beautiful giants feeding.

When to see whale sharks: November – February

Nosy Be, Madagascar

This beautiful coast is a hotspot for whale sharks with a reported 95% success rate of spotting with these ocean giants during peak season. Apparently the number of whale sharks visiting Nosy Be is increasing year by year, so watch out for this one!

When to see whale sharks: October – December

Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique

This national marine park is visited by whale sharks who come to feed near the surface of the water, and you can snorkel with huge numbers of them when they do. There are lots of liveaboard and snorkel tour operators to show you where they like to feed.

When to see whale sharks: October – April

Tofo Beach, Mozambique

This small secluded fishing village is home to a population of whale sharks that can be spotted all year round. Your best bet for snorkeling with whale sharks in Mozambique is when plankton is blooming, attracting up to 50 whale sharks to the area for feeding. You’ll find plenty of snorkeling tours to take you to the feeding grounds where you can see whale sharks up close.

When to see whale sharks: October – March

Mafia Island, Tanzania

This island has the longest whale shark season in the world, meaning you have the most opportunity to snorkel with them. Once a year, the monsoon winds push tonnes of plankton towards this island, attracting lots of whale sharks just minutes from the shores of Kilindoni. You’ll find plenty of whale shark snorkel tours to take you to the feeding grounds to snorkel with them.

When to see whale sharks: October – February

Snorkelling with whale sharks in Asia

South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Whale sharks are swimming in the waters around the Maldives all year round, but South Ari Atoll is your best bet for snorkeling with them. A marine protected area, this sheltered zone is more frequently visited by whale sharks than other regions.

When to see whale sharks: May – December in the Western side, January – April on the Eastern side.

Koh Tao, Thailand

You can often snorkel with whale sharks around the Chumphon Pinnacle, which is a 15-minute boat ride from Koh Tao. They seem to be spotted here all year round, but it’s all down to luck.

When to see whale sharks: April – June seem to be the most popular times.

Snorkelling with whale sharks in Australia

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Snorkellers watch as a whale shark swims by. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

This reef is the only place on Earth where you can encounter whale sharks swimming so close to land. You’ll find huge schools of whale sharks gliding in schools along the reef, and snorkeling with whale sharks during season is almost a guarantee. Head to Coral Bay or Exmouth, where you’ll find lots of whale snorkel tour operators to guide you to the best spots.

When to see whale sharks: April – July

Snorkelling with whale sharks in the Caribbean

Gladden Spit, Belize

This is the best known site for snorkeling with whale sharks in Belize, crawling with huge schools of enormous whale sharks up to 14 metres long. You’ll find them here feeding on krill and plankton in the shallows. There are also are plenty of whale shark snorkel tours that’ll take you to the right spots, although there’s no guarantee the whale sharks won’t be hiding in the deep!

When to see whale sharks: March – June

Utila, Honduras

One of the few places in the world where you can snorkel with whale sharks all year round, Utila is known as the whale shark capital of the Caribbean. The whale sharks here grow up to 10 metres long and can be seen swimming close to the shore throughout the year. Your best bet for snorkeling with whale sharks in Utila is to swim on a calm day when fish rise up to the surface, attracting whale sharks to feed.

When to see whale sharks: March – May or September – December

Snorkelling with whale sharks in Indonesia

Cenderawasih Bay, West Papua

This massive marine park is home to whale sharks pretty much all year round. The giant creatures are often hanging out just below the surface of the water, and you can guarantee a snorkel with them any time of year. The whale sharks congregate here to feed on small fish thrown out by local fishermen, and they’re used to being around snorkelers. That means you’ll have them coming right up to you and swimming close, giving a truly unique whale shark snorkeling experience!

When to see whale sharks: All year!

Derawan Island, East Kalimantan

The waters around this island attract small numbers of giant whale sharks to feed on anchovies thrown out by fishermen. You might be able to snorkel with whale sharks here if you’re lucky, but it’s not as popular as Cenderawasih. Your best bet here would be Whale Shark Point, a floating platform roughly 20-minutes from shore where whale sharks can be seen feeding between 6-8 in the morning.

When to see whale sharks: June – September

Gorontalo, Sulawesi

This area in Botubarani village is home to numerous whale sharks that swim just metres away from the shore. You can snorkel with whale sharks almost every morning during season, with lots of tour operators and local fishermen able to guide you to the right areas.

Note that word is spreading about local fishermen feeding the whale sharks here, as they do in Oslob in the Philippines. This is dangerous for the life of the whale sharks and done only to attract tourists to the area. For this reason Ninja Shark doesn’t recommend visiting Gorontalo as it only encourages this practice.

When to see whale sharks: December – April

Snorkelling with whale sharks in Mexico

Contoy, Cancun

This island is known for its whale shark population, and it’s a great spot to snorkel with whale sharks if you come at the right times. You’ll find many tour operators from Cancun that offer trips to this area.

When to see whale sharks: June – September

Holbox, Quintana Roo

Less popular with whale sharks than the other islands off Cancun, Holbox still offers plenty of opportunity to snorkel amongst these creatures. Again, you’ll find lots of tour operators to take you swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks, but your chances are less than at Isla Mujeres.

When to see whale sharks: June – September

Isla Mujeres, Cancun

This is the best place to snorkel with whale sharks in Mexico. Every year hundreds of whale sharks gather around the waters north of the island to feed on the plankton. The best spot to snorkel with whale sharks is around an hour’s boat ride from shore, and you’ll find lots of tour operators to take you there. Some even have a whale shark spotting guarantee!

When to see whale sharks: June – September

La Paz, Baja California

Hundreds of juvenile whale sharks congregate around the shallow waters of this city every year. It’s a great opportunity for beginner snorkelers to get up close to whale sharks, and you can almost bet on seeing them if you visit at the right times. You’ll find lots of tour operators to take you to the right spots.

When to see whale sharks: October – February

Snorkelling with whale sharks in the Philippines

Donsol Bay, Gimagaan

This is one of the best places in the world to snorkel with whale sharks, home to huge schools of sharks up to 12 metres long. During peak season it’s rare not to see a whale shark while snorkeling, and they can even be spotted off-shore. Whale sharks here often come up to the surface and interact with snorkelers, making for a truly exceptional experience. Peak viewing time is between February and April (also peak tourist season).

When to see whale sharks: December – May

Oslob, Cebu

We have to put this on the list because you can most definitely snorkel with whale sharks in Oslob, but it won’t be ethical snorkeling. The whale sharks here are fed by the local fisherman to attract them to the area so they can make more money, interrupting their migration routes and damaging their life cycles. Guides and tourists often also touch the whale sharks here, which isn’t a good idea as it causes them stress and also can possibly transmit bacterial infections. Ninja Shark doesn’t recommend visiting the whale sharks in Oslob for this reason.

When to see whale sharks: Unfortunately, all year round.

Padre Burgos, Southern Leyte

Less popular than Donsol and Oslob with both whale sharks and tourists, this area of Southern Leyte still has a good whale shark population with lots of sightings common while snorkelling during migration season.

When to see whale sharks: February – April

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