- Deep Andaman Team
Diving with Whale Sharks in the Similan Islands
Updated: Jan 25, 2020
You never forget your first whale shark dive! Very few humans ever get to see whale sharks up close in their natural environment, which is what makes encounters with them even more exciting and spectacular, and also what makes Andaman liveaboard dive trips some of the best Asia liveaboard diving available. That incredible feeling of awe at being so close to something so big and so majestic is simply breathtaking, and frankly almost indescribable. In fact, if we had a dollar for every underwater squeal of excitement, happy face, or tear of joy we’ve seen over the years from witnessing our guests' reactions to seeing one… well, let’s just say we’d have a hell of a lot of dollars!
So, what exactly is it that makes whale sharks so special?
We’re sure you’ve all been told at some point that ‘size doesn’t matter’, but when it comes to whale sharks, trust us, that rule gets blown out of the water! It is indeed the sheer size of these gentle giants that makes diving with them such a mind-blowing experience. Juveniles range from 3-6 meters in length, with older whale sharks average 7-10 meters, and fully grown adults can reach up to 15meters. These impressive measurements make the whale shark the biggest fish in the sea, and their love of warm tropical waters puts them at the top of the bucket list for anyone going scuba diving in Thailand. Whale sharks normally swim slowly, and even though they have the ability to reach depths of up to 1500meters, they tend to swim close to the surface. Both of these factors mean that divers visiting a range of dive sites in the Andaman Sea have a great chance of seeing one, and many of our guests plan the whole of the rest of their trip around when to dive the Similan Islands, to maximize their chance of seeing one.
Is it Safe to Dive with Sharks?
Absolutely and categorically, yes! Whale sharks, like manta rays, are filter feeders, and feast on plankton and small fish which they swallow whole. They do have teeth, but only vestigial teeth that are not used for eating or biting. So you can ditch your irrational shark fears and enjoy your time in the water with these magnificent creatures without the ‘Jaws’ theme tune playing in your head in the background constantly!
Sharks, in general, are actually very shy but also incredibly intelligent creatures. So even other species of shark are very safe to dive with, as they are much less interested in humans than you’ve probably been led to believe. To put it into perspective, you have a higher chance of being killed by a falling coconut than a shark. If you are more of a numbers person, that’s less than 1 in 11.5million – an incredibly small risk when balanced against a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness marine life species that have been around for millions of years, and outlived the dinosaurs!
It is important that we dive responsibly, however, and all of our dive leaders onboard our North Andaman liveaboard vessels will include some hints, tips and common sense information in their dive briefings to help you make the most out of your Similans whale shark diving experience, should you be lucky enough to have one. Namely:
● Never touch a whale shark
● Do not chase a whale shark
● Stay a minimum of 3meters away from the head, and at least 5meters away from the tail of a whale shark
● Do not use flash photography near a whale shark
● Never feed a whale shark
Interesting Facts about Whale Sharks
● Very little is known about whale sharks compared to most other shark species.
● It is estimated that whale sharks may live to over 100 years of age.
● Whale sharks have the thickest skin of any land or marine animal, normally around 10cm thick.
● Divers' accounts of whale shark dives can be a little exaggerated from time to time. Remember the theory from all of your dive courses – everything looks bigger & closer underwater!
● You can identify individual whale sharks by their pattern of spots (this is also true of manta rays).
● Despite having very few known predators, whale sharks are an endangered species. This is mainly because of illegal and irresponsible fishing practices like shark finning (for shark fin soup) and accidental deaths by getting caught up in nets from fishing trawlers.
Where to Dive with Whale Sharks in Thailand and Myanmar
The Similan and Surin Islands national parks are regularly quoted in PADI and Lonely Planet articles as being one of the top locations in the world to scuba dive with whale sharks. So joining one of our Andaman liveaboard trips for 5 days and 14 dives provides a good probability to see one if you visit at the right time, although as with all Similan islands marine life sightings there is an element of luck involved too.
The most popular dive sites for whale shark sightings are Richelieu Rock in the Similan Islands, and Black Rock and Western Rocky for Myanmar diving.
When to Dive with Whale Sharks in Thailand and Myanmar
The optimal departure dates of our Similan Island liveaboard trips and Myanmar liveaboard trips for the best chance of seeing a whale shark are those in January to March/April. Couple this with the best time for diving with manta rays (spoiler, it’s December to April), and this is why the first few months of the year tend to be our busiest, with many trips being fully booked several months in advance.
Are you ready for the trip of a lifetime to see if you can see your first whale shark with us? Our team members are waiting to show you a whole host of exciting marine life and beautiful dive sites. If you have questions about any of our Andaman scuba diving liveaboard trips please don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org In the meantime, you can check boat schedules and trip availability online, plus our website homepage features our most up to date liveaboard diving deals.