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Whale Sharks of South Ari, Maldives – What Are They Doing There ?

Whale Shark Feeding in Maldives
whale sharks, glide over a tropical Maldivian coral reef is a life event that only a fortunate few will ever get to experience.

Seeing whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, glide over a tropical Maldivian coral reef is a life event that only a fortunate few will ever get to experience. The South Ari atoll region is renowned as being a ‘hot spot’ for this species and one of the few places in the world where you have the chance to see these animals on any day of the year.

If you are one of those lucky folk, then the chances are that after the initial excitement of actually being in the water with such a huge animal starts to subside, your wide eye’s will begin to notice details about it and what it is doing.

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) has been recording whale shark encounters in the South Ari atoll region for over 10 years. Part of the data the MWSRP records is the behavior of the shark. The MWSRP assign each shark to one of five behavioral categories; ‘Cruising’, ‘Evasive’, ‘Inquisitive’ ‘Interacting’ and ‘Feeding’. By recording these details, we are able to compare other factors – either environmental or human influenced – to see what affect they have on a shark. Let’s have a look at each in a bit more detail.


The second most frequently recorded behavior is ‘Evasive’. This is usually characterized by very short-lived encounters with whale sharks that really don’t want to have any company! Typically sharks exhibiting this kind of behavior are seen at the surface and then begin to dive as soon as a vessel or person approaches them. The shark typically hugs the bottom of the reef and swims – often rapidly – out away from shallow water, following the seabed contours down into the deep. This kind of behavior can also be prompted by people getting too close to a seemingly unresponsive ‘Cruising’ shark and making it uncomfortable. MWSRP believes that these sharks are further along in their re-warming process than ‘Cruising’ sharks.


A firm favorite behavior of both scientists and visitors to the Maldives alike, unfortunately it’s not as commonly observed as we would hope! Believed to be a behavior only exhibited by whale sharks at the peak of their re-warming cycle, sharks which are ‘Inquisitive’ are typically seen right in front of your nose! Often staying at the surface for prolonged periods, these sharks closely approach snorkelers or vessels, sometimes even bumping or rubbing up against them. Quite unnerving for people having their first whale shark encounter, it is you who has to move out of the shark’s way! Vessel Captains have to be very careful when operating around a shark exhibiting this behavior as they will frequently venture near vessel propellers and are liable to injury.


The vast majority of encounters with whale sharks in the South Ari atoll Marine Protected Area are with whale sharks which are ‘Cruising’. Broadly speaking, this behavioral type is defined as “a slow moving shark close to the surface exhibiting no rapid movements, feeding or response to peripheral stimuli”. MWSRP believe that sharks behaving like this are doing so as they are recuperating from feeding dives into deep, cold water nearby. As cold blooded animals they must re-warm their bodies in the warm surface waters before they can increase their activity levels and are therefore at their most vulnerable to predators or collisions with vessels in this state.


Another favorite for both the MWSRP researchers and anyone lucky enough to witness it, interacting is where two – or in some magical cases even more – whale sharks meet and interact with each other on the reef. This is very rarely seen, but typically when the sharks first meet they will circle around one another, like enormous puppies! Quite why they do this is a mystery, though theories range from them ‘sizing each other up’, to releasing and smelling some kind of pheromone into the water which passes information about one shark to the other. People who have seen this behavior often ask if it is related to mating, though with 96% of the sharks being male in this area, and all juvenile, this is unlikely unless it is practice for behavior that will be needed later in life.


Feeding whale sharks account for only around 16% of encounter records for whale sharks in the South Ari atoll Marine Protected Area. In other regions of the Maldives when the sharks are drawn to events offering them a chance to opportunistically feed, it is the primary behavior type. Attaining food is one of the major challenges in a whale shark’s life, so they very rarely miss a chance to do so.There are two types of feeding performed by whale sharks, both revolving around the mechanism of ‘filter feeding’. Filter feeding is where small fish and plankton enter the mouth of the sharks along with gallons and gallons of water. The water is then expelled through the gills and fine filters in the gills extract the tiny animals which are then swallowed by the shark’s en-masse. In‘suction filter feeding’, the sharks actively suck water and the hapless plankton into their mouth and then force out the water over their gills by powerfully closing their jaws. This is usually reserved for good feeding opportunities. The alternative is‘ram filter feeding’, where the shark swims along with its mouth wide open. Anything in the path of the shark which cannot actively swim away gets scooped up. Maximum sizeof an animal a whale shark can eat? About 5 inches. So don’t worry, you’re not on the menu despite their size!

a diver capturing a close image of a Whale Shark
A Diver Capturing a close image of the Whale Shark.

If you are lucky enough to have the chance to swim with the whale sharks in South Ari atoll, do remember that these sharks are probably feeling tired and pretty vulnerable being at the surface with you.

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) is a duel UK & Maldivian registered charity that exists to conduct whale shark research and foster community conservation initiatives throughout the Maldives and the Indian Ocean.

The article was originally published in FIYA Magazine, Issue 09, Published by MVHOTELS.

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Is Maldives a Family-Friendly Destination?

Maldives might be popular as a romantic adventure destination. But did you know that the Maldives is the perfect place for an unforgettable family vacation as well? If you’re looking for a memorable getaway with your family, look no further. Picture this: turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, and endless opportunities for fun in the sun with your loved ones. Sounds like a dream, right?

Maldives has been popular among families for quite some time. Whether you’re looking for a small getaway or a luxurious retreat, there is no place like the Maldives to make some memories. If celebrities like the Beckhams and the Ramseys choose this destination over and over again, why shouldn’t you? Get ready to discover why this tropical oasis is the ultimate playground for families. The Maldives offers everything from kid-friendly accommodations to exciting activities for all ages. And we’ve got insider tips and tricks to ensure your Maldives getaway is nothing short of spectacular.

Where Can I Find Family-Friendly Accommodation Options in the Maldives?

Nothing says family-friendly accommodation like a cute little beach villa or even an expansive overwater villa. As the Maldives resorts offer everything from babysitting services to special inclusions in rooms for families, every resort can be a kid-friendly haven for your next Maldives trip. In resorts such as SAii Lagoon Maldives, rooms are set up thoughtfully for families travelling with babies with additions such as baby cribs at the property. You can always call ahead of your trip to the Maldives and request special add-ons to cater for the kids. Additionally, almost all resorts in the Maldives also come with a kids club, where kids can play, make new friends and learn something new over the summer.

If you’re looking for the best of the best, John Legend and Chrissy Teigen might recommend a family trip to Soneva Jani. Over the years, Soneva resorts have become a go-to destination for celebrities, especially those travelling with kids. But if that’s not in your budget, here are some more family-friendly resorts you can visit.

What Kid-Friendly Activities Are Available in the Maldives?

If you really want to book a trip to the Maldives, but you’re scared the destination might not be for your kids, don’t worry. Maldives resorts cater to guests of all ages. Whether you’re travelling with an infant or a teenager, there’s something fun to explore in all corners.

If the beach days get too boring, kids can always drop by the kids club where art, culinary and adventure make up a good time. Lately, resorts such as Conrad Maldives Rangali Island and Baglioni Maldives offer amazing kids and teens clubs. While younger kids can enjoy weekly activities like arts and crafts, teenagers can enjoy spa days, snorkelling & kayaking to movies under the stars through the kids and teens club.

What Do Other Families Say About Their Experience in the Maldives?

The feeling of a vacation in Maldives does not require a lot of words, you can see the joy through pictures and posts. Whether it’s Gordon Ramsay’s Christmas getaway with the family at Amilla Maldives or the recent trip by the long-time partner of Christiano Ronaldo, Georgina Rodríguez and their family at JOALI Maldives, you can just tell families have the best time in the Maldives. But if you want it from travellers just like you and I, here are some amazing reviews from families after their Maldives trip:

It was our second time in the Maldives and we chose again the Lux South Ari Atoll. We came in our honeymoon in 2020 right before the pandemic situation and we promised that we will come back as soon as possible. So, we did in April 2021! And we took our families and friends with us! We really loved the island, the food, the restaurants and the staff! We liked the experience even more this time. It was the perfect place for our family vacation, we felt very safe regarding the pandemic situation, the weather was perfect and the whole personal contributed to our best holiday says a guest who visited LUX* South Ari Atoll, on Agoda.

Another guest who visited Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa also shared their experience.

We celebrated my daughter’s 5th birthday in this lovely resort and their surprises were truly memorable.🥰 Our room was beautifully decorated and our bday girl was so happy as she got to do lots of fun activities including a magic show!🪄Very family-friendly resort! Special thanks to Vida who was so so approachable, had the initiative to take care of the kids, entertained them so the parents can have some peaceful holiday.😊

What Are Some Tips for Planning a Family Trip to the Maldives?

  1. Choosing a Family-Friendly Resorts: As the Maldives caters to a variety of travellers, there are family-friendly resorts as well as adults-only resorts. Make sure you’re booking a trip to a resort where kids can enjoy the vacation as much as you. Always look into the kids-club activities and the upcoming festivities for the holidays as well.
  2. Pack Wisely: Don’t forget to pack essentials such as sunscreen, hats, swimwear, and more, as the Maldives is a beachy and tropical destination. Don’t forget any necessary medications, as well as entertainment for kids during travel downtime!
  3. Plan Kid-Friendly Activities: Make sure to research family-friendly activities offered by your resort or nearby attractions. You can explore activities such as guided snorkeling trips, dolphin cruises, island-hopping adventures, and cultural experiences. Look for activities suitable for different ages and interests to ensure everyone has a fantastic time.
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