Exploring the Enigmatic World of Maldives Sharks
Maldives is an island nation that’s known for its unwavering island beauty. The beaches are filled with fine sand that flows like silk and ocean waters with brilliant jade and sapphire hues.
This paradise is known for its underwater beauty just as much as its overwater beauty. The coral reefs offer a display of magnificent colours which also teems with a variety of fish. In this blog post, we’re going to be talking about fish, more specifically, Maldives sharks!
If you’re an avid diver, snorkeller or enjoyer of all things underwater, Maldives is going to scratch that itch for you. And if you’re going to go diving in Maldives to swim with its shark inhabitants, why not read up on the different types to maximise your experience?
The Variety of Shark Species in Maldives
Maldives has in its waters many varieties of sharks. Today we’ll be taking a look at the more commonly spotted Maldives shark (not indigenous to Maldives) species so that the divers who are reading this will know where to go looking for these magnificent creatures!
1. Whale Shark
Starting off strong with the biggest fish in the world is the whale shark. Growing up to an average of 12 metres / 39 feet and weighing an astounding 21.5 tons, you’d think these creatures are masterful predators that eat everything in sight to grow that big. While they do eat a lot, they only eat the tiniest of prey the ocean has to offer.
The whale shark’s diet includes plankton and shrimp as they are filter feeders and are virtually harmless to human beings. It is still advised to use caution and respect their personal space while diving with them to avoid any issues.
These beautiful beasts can be seen all over Maldives but if you want to guarantee a sighting, head to South Ari Atoll to further increase your chances. They can be seen year-round in those parts often close to the surface of the water and use the atolls as nurseries to raise their young.
2. Scalloped Hammerhead Shark
From the whale shark that is a filter feeder to the hammerhead shark that is a carnivore, these creatures feast on fish, stingrays and even cannibalise other hammerhead sharks. With common sightings in Rasdhoo Atoll, the hammerhead shark can be found swimming in schools in these parts.
Scalloped hammerhead sharks on average can grow to 2.5 – 3 metres / 8.2 – 9.8 feet long and weigh 176 – 220 pounds / 80 – 100 kgs. Just like the whale shark you can go near the hammerheads but it is still advised to use caution and respect their space as well. We recommend diving with a licensed instructor from a dive centre to ensure a safe and memorable Maldives shark watching experience!
3. Tawny Nurse Shark
Tawny nurse sharks are known as the gentle ones in the world of sharks and in Maldives sharks as well. Known to be nocturnal and commonly sighted around Vaavu Atoll, they come out at night to hunt for lobsters and different types of small fish, while they seek sanctuary during daytime to rest. They are known to grow to an average length of 2.4 to 3 metres / 8 to 10 feet and weigh 330 pounds / 150 kgs.
They usually dwell at the base of coral reefs and use smell instead of sight (as they are known to have poor eyesight) to get around. They are known to be quite docile, with divers being able to get really close to them and sometimes even touch them and play with them. As always, diving with professional instructors will always yield the best results in terms of enjoyment and safety.
4. Blacktip & Whitetip Reef Sharks
Both of these sharks favour shallow, coastal waters and reef beds as their habitat and are seen as harmless and quite shy, and will keep away from swimmers on their own if there’s no provocation. They can be recognised by the colour of the tip of their fins, as suggested by their respective names.
Blacktips can grow up to 1.7 metres / 5.5 feet long and weigh 55 pounds / 25 kgs. Whitetips can grow up to 1.2 to 1.6 metres / 3.9 to 5.2 feet and weigh a maximum of 40 pounds / 18.3 kgs.
Both of them have the same feeding habits, where they hunt for fish from the reef and occasionally eat crustaceans and cephalopods. Both these sharks are the two most common Maldives sharks so it shouldn’t be that tough to find these creatures in the wild.
5. Grey Reef Shark
Just as the name suggests, the grey reef sharks can be found at Rasdhoo Madivaru, Guraidhoo Corner and many other coral reefs and are known to be the more social of the bunch. They have been seen forming groups of 5 to 20 during daytime along the coral edges and then split up into smaller groups to hunt as the sun goes down. Matured variants have been known to reach 1.2 to 1.5 metres / 4 to 5 feet in length with a maximum weight of 74 pounds / 33 kgs.
They are curious creatures as they have been known to swim close to divers upon first contact but lose interest with more encounters. The safest place to look for these creatures is in the reef as they have been known to become aggressive when they’re out in the open water. Make sure to go with experienced and licensed divers so that the proper safety precautions are observed.
6. Leopard Shark
Leopard sharks (also known as zebra sharks) are known to have a beautiful and unique look to them, with their spots and / or stripes closely resembling a leopard and sometimes a zebra. These creatures are always spotted on the seabed at the southern Maldivian atolls at around 5 to 30 metres / 16 to 98 feet as they are nocturnal creatures, preferring the dark.
Leopard sharks can grow between 1.2 to 2.1 metres / 4 to 7 feet and weigh around 22 pounds / 9.9 kgs. Their diet consists of crustaceans, sea snakes, molluscs and various types of fish. They are also known to be quite slow and sluggish, most likely due to their nocturnal nature. They are usually very calm when approached and hold no aggression unless provoked.
Shark Diving and Snorkelling in Maldives
Maldives is known for its underwater beauty whether it’s in the coral section or the marine wildlife section. Sharks are quite high up the wildlife list as people from all over the world flock to Maldives to see, experience and try to swim with these animals.
South Ari Atoll, Rasdhoo Atoll, Vaavu Atoll, Rasdhoo Madivaru, Guraidhoo Corner are some of the best locations for you to go shark spotting, as mentioned in the above section as well.
Ecological Importance of Sharks
It’s always been said that every being on the planet has purpose within the food chain, that one cannot survive without the other. This has been proven time and time again throughout the years and it rings true to every marine ecosystem as well.
In a country like Maldives, sharks are an extremely important part of the marine ecosystem, the local fishing and tourism industry.
Maldives sharks and sharks as a whole in the world have been known to maintain the balance of the ecosystem, as they are a ‘predatory species with large ecological function values that exert a powerful influence over lower levels and their elimination is known to have cascading effects on marine food chains and ecosystems. The integrity of the Maldives marine ecosystem would be compromised by reductions in the populations of these large predators.’ (Quoted from: secretparadise.mv)
There’s also research that shows that the ripple effect of a decrease in sharks in a given ecosystem results in a much more indirect and behavioural outcome instead of a population change. To put it simply, the influence sharks have on an ecosystem may cause the respective marine life to change their behaviour in an attempt to stave off becoming a meal for something else.
Sharks also ‘promote herbivore abundance, help coral reefs to fight climate change and encourage phytoplankton growth by transporting nutrients from the deep to the shallows.’ (Quoted from: secretparadise.mv)
Shark Conservation Efforts in the Maldives
Shark conservation efforts started as early as the 1960’s in Maldives, following the advent of long-lining to the fishing industry. Notable efforts include utilising tuna schools as bait to fish for sharks (1981, 1992), declaring dive sites as protected zones (1995), the banning of Fish Aggregating Devices and fishing near seamounts (1997, 1996) along with a fishing ban in tourism zones (1998). Sadly these efforts proved unsuccessful, which led to the implementation of a total and nationwide shark fishing ban in 2010.
There are multiple organisations in Maldives that also make it their mission to study, protect and improve the environment that Maldives sharks live in so that the population can continue to grow (sharks breed once every few years, two to three years, and only birth up to 10 pups at a time). Some of these organisations include:
- Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme – Began their efforts in 2006.
- Blue Marine Foundation’s Resilient Reefs Project: Maldives Resilient Reefs #SaveOurSharks Alliance – A movement where local and international organisations came together to halt the shark fishing ban from being lifted and to maintain Maldives as a shark sanctuary.
- Miyaru Programme – An NGO that: ‘Conducts and supports both interdisciplinary research and conservation initiatives focused on the shark species of the Maldives and wider Indian Ocean.’
Shark Myths vs. Facts
Sharks are known, in the general public, to be these scary, gluttonous, man-eating beasts that completely go berserk upon smelling a drop of blood in the water. This is simply not the case at all. Let’s dispel some of these myths and replace them with proper facts!
Myth No. 1: Sharks will attack humans indiscriminately even if they are hungry or not.
This is false. The fact of the matter is, most of these quote-on-quote attacks on humans occur as a result of low water visibility. Either that or they bite out of curiosity, which is why there are many more shark bites than there are deaths. It is also because sharks tend to mistake humans for seals and /or dolphins, which are their usual prey whilst also being similar in size to humans.
Myth No. 2: Sharks are able to detect the tiniest drop of blood.
This is false as well. While sharks do have an incredibly heightened sense of smell, they cannot detect a drop of blood in the vastness of the ocean. They can however detect one drop of blood in an Olympic-size swimming pool (the swimming pool analogy is just that, an analogy for the purpose of visualising the sensitivity of the sharks olfactory system).
Myth No. 3: A dead shark is the best shark.
Sharks are incredibly important for marine ecology as explained earlier in this article. Every creature has its place in the food chain and the world as a whole, from the mighty elephants and blue whales to the tiny cockroaches, mosquitoes and even cellular life forms.
Myth No. 4: All sharks are the same and will bite anything and everything.
All sharks are not the same, far from it. There are around 500 species of sharks in the world with varying habitats, diets, shapes, behaviours and sizes and only three of these species (tiger sharks, bull sharks and great white sharks) are responsible for most of the reported bite incidents.
Myth No. 5: Sharks are the apex and have no predators.
This is false as well. Human beings are predators to sharks more than anything else in the world. Year after year, tens of millions of sharks are hunted and killed either for purposes of food, black market trade, etc. Their fins are in extremely high demand even after shark fishing bans over the world were implemented.
Responsible Shark Tourism in Maldives
There are certain things that you as a tourist should observe when it comes to swimming with Maldives sharks and sharks in general.
One of them is to ensure that you are diving with certified guides / instructors. These are the people that have properly studied up on what should and shouldn’t be done in the case of handling shark tourism. Follow their instructions and you will end up having a good time.
Another very important thing you can do is to respect the shark’s boundaries. Never go too near them, never touch them and never swim within their path. These are just recipes for disaster as these actions can be seen as aggressive behaviours to the shark, which will cause distress to the animal and might cause them to act out.
If you want to document these creatures in their natural habitat, ensure that you’re not using any form of flash photography or a light if you’re recording a video. Flash photography and bright, blinding lights can also cause distress to sharks, which isn’t good for anyone.
Reading up and doing research on the best practices when you’re going into the water with sharks will also put you leagues ahead of other tourists. If you want to do a deep-dive before you head out for the actual dive, we recommend you check out this blog by PADI on responsible shark and ray tourism and this page by WWF on shark and ray tourism.
Personal Encounters with Maldives Sharks
There have been numerous tourist accounts where they’ve swam in Maldives waters particularly to experience swimming with Maldives sharks. Here are some of the best ones that we found during their travels that inspired awe and appreciation in them, opening their eyes to the beauty that sharks hold.
Review of Pelagic Divers Fuvahmulah
‘Amazing dives with an amazing team. The tiger shark experience was unique, overwhelming and felt safe with them. Highly recommend!’ – June 2021 via Tripadvisor.
Review of Murakabay Maldives Dive Center
‘I lived in Ukulhas for 3 months (2020 Dec – 2021 March) and during this time, Yakko, Zamiko became my second family, much more than just vacation and diving. Together with them and the Murakabay team, we covered almost the entire Ari Atoll by boat. Together we dive among schools of reef sharks, eagle rays, schools of manta rays and even with a whale shark. Absolute safety, excellent equipment in the club, a new compressor with the most modern filters, as well as Yakko’s knowledge of the ocean, currents, marine life and every square metre of dive sites and hospitality to divers and islands – this is what distinguishes these soulful people and their work from everything else what I’ve seen before. More than seventy dives in the atoll with them made my journey and life here a fairy tale, with which I had never even dreamed of before. Night diving, full moon night snorkelling on Maalhos in the soulful company will forever remain in the memories of the best moments of my life. There are only a few dives left up to the 100 mark and I hope that I will have time for that before departure and will open a new stage of the experience right here. From a diving theorist with 4 certificates this is where I became a practitioner and gained invaluable experience in currents diving, helping my partners and interacting with the ocean and its inhabitants. Well, dozens of sociable and interesting people from all over the world and their happy faces became a pleasant addition to everything that I saw here.’ – March 2021 via Tripadvisor.
Review of Papa Fish Excursions
‘Unforgettable experience in diving and swimming with marine animals, Manta rays, Sharks, trips and seeing dolphins, turtles… places that leave you speechless. You must go on an underwater exploration of the Maldives with Papa Fish because their experienced and wonderful staff will show you the unseen and unreal to the eye. A warm and sincere recommendation.’ – February 2023 via Tripadvisor.
Review of Shadowpalm Tours
‘Hello! I just returned from my trip to Maldives and it has been excellent. We were a Spanish group of around 15 people and we have been 10 days in the Maldives with Shadowpalm making day trips around different spots in Maafushi and Hanifaru Bay. The experience has been unforgettable. The staff is super friendly and the services they provide are excellent! We swam with nurse sharks, white-tip sharks, rays, mantas, and turtles, we also did freediving in a sunken boat… Always respecting the ocean and its local habitats. I totally recommend shadowpalm tours if you visit the Maldives!’ – October 2022 via Tripadvisor.
Sharks have been misconstrued and shown as vicious predators for a long time now, from film depictions, human encounters and so on. But with scientific research showing that that isn’t 100% the case, that sharks can be encountered under peaceful circumstances if their space is respected and the proper guidelines observed, it can be a wonderful experience. Even people don’t respond kindly to distressing behaviour so it shouldn’t come as a surprise if denizens of the animal kingdom react in a similar manner.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading up on this shark piece! Maldives sharks are here to stay and grow, waiting to be experienced by people all over the world under the right circumstances.