September 2018

September 28, 2018

Diving with Whale Sharks off Mafia Island, Tanzania

Filed under: A guide to Tanzania,The Indian Ocean Islands — Tags: , , , , , — Tanzania Odyssey @ 8:51 am

Your questions, answered!

Off the coast of Tanzania, far south of Dar es Salaam, there is an island that welcomes spirited adventurers looking for a getaway that’s further off the beaten track than the other islands off East Africa’s coastline. Mafia Island is a peaceful retreat with pristine diving and snorkelling spots that are home to a colourful array of ocean dwellers, including the whale shark.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Encountering the largest fish in the sea is quite simply breath-taking, and it will be one of the many, long-lasting memories of a beach holiday in Tanzania. We answer the questions most regularly asked by our guests when booking a trip to Mafia Island to dive with whale sharks.

When is the best time of year to see whale sharks?

From October through to February each year, Mafia Island becomes a particularly magical place. Whale sharks, the gentle giants of the sea, venture close to the shore to feast on the plankton pushed out with the silt from the Rufiji River into the warm waters of the Indian ocean. As filter-feeders, whale sharks glide below the water’s surface with their mouths open consuming multiple kilograms / pounds of plankton and small aquatic organisms each day.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Mafia Island experiences the longest whale shark season globally. Whilst the behaviour of whale sharks is still relatively unknown, the most reliable time to encounter them within the October to February period at Mafia Island is during November and December.

What is it like diving with whale sharks?

Despite its name, whale sharks are neither typically whale nor shark. Without proper teeth and shy by nature, swimming with whale sharks is a safe excursion that makes Mafia Island such a special destination. As with all wildlife, a respectful distance should be kept at all times as a whale shark will most likely be nervous of the strange four-limbed creature swimming beside it.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Chole Mjini

Like the unique set of fingerprints humans have, whale sharks have distinct patterns and scarring that make each individual fish different from its neighbour. These are truly magnificent and beautiful creatures whose size add to this captivating encounter. Reaching up to 12 meters long, weighing in at 20 tonnes, and with the potential to live for 70 years, diving with whale sharks is a humbling experience.

What kind of accommodation is on Mafia Island?

The perfect natural setting is equally matched by luxury furnishings, tasteful décor and a high standard of service at the lodges on Mafia Island. Stylish and laid-back island-living is the mainstay of the different accommodation types found here, such as bungalows, stone chalets and even treehouses.

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Pole Pole

Mafia Island is a fantastic honeymoon getaway for newlyweds wanting peace and quiet after months of wedding planning. Families too will love the diversity of lodgings as well as activities that are on offer for the kids to get involved in. For those travelling on a larger budget, the lodges on the neighbouring Fanjove and Thanda islands are extremely exclusive and dreamy!

Tanzania, Mafia Island, whale sharks, whale shark diving, beach holidays, luxury beach accommodation

© Kinasi Lodge

Inspired to dive with the underwater giants of Tanzania’s crystal blue coastal waters? Chat with us about putting together the perfect Tanzanian beach holiday for you.

November 15, 2017

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Mafia Island

Photo © Steve De Neef

Just a 30-minute flight south of Zanzibar, the little island of Mafia is a remote, charming and laid-back alternative to the more tourist-driven beaches of Zanzibar.

Primarily known for its ocean glory, Mafia Island really encourages travelers to explore the wonders of its surrounding waters. Home to Tanzania’s first marine park, Mafia Island Marine Park, the reefs around the island offers a staggeringly beautiful display of marine life, as well as some of the most vibrant and varied coral in East Africa. In addition to this, Mafia Island is one of the only destinations where whale shark sightings are virtually guaranteed at the right time of year. AAAAA

Photo © Steve De Neef

From October through to February, the Kaskazi (north monsoon wind) pushes the plankton-rich surface layer of the water from the nutrient-rich Rufiji River silt, towards the island, trapping it against the west coast. The whale sharks gather at the surface in the areas where the plankton is most dense and use their 1-metre wide mouths to ‘hoover’ up their daily requirement of nutrients.

Sometimes found just ten minutes from the shore, and seldom more than an hour away, the whale sharks’ feeding areas are reached via a quick boat ride. Once they have been located, you’ll spend a sometime waiting for the whale sharks to relax and get used to your presence, before gently climbing into the water for a swim and closer look at them. Measuring up to 8m long, they are an impressive sight next to the boat, and even more stunning to behold under the water. It’s important to remain calm and patient during this experience as to not disturb the whale sharks, after all, this human-animal interaction is a massive privilege. Despite their size, these gentle giants won’t even bump into you if they can avoid it and will swim away if they feel threatened.

Photo © Steve De Neef

Watch this video by National Geographic for more info and why the whale sharks spend so much time around Mafia Island:

If swimming with whale sharks sounds like your idea of fun, then get in touch with us and we’ll help you plan the perfect safari tailored to your interests, budget, and schedule.

Odyssey Travels Tanzania Odyssey Asia Odyssey South America Odyssey