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Whale Shark encounters in the Maldives

(DiverWire) Contributing writer Catherine Jones of just returned from a trip to the Maldives. She was kind enough to give us a review of her trip.

Every year each January, to escape the cold English weather, I plan a dive holiday to somewhere sunny and warm. This year it was to the Maldives on a one week liveaboard around South Male Atoll and Ari Atoll.

I flew into Male arriving late Saturday afternoon and was immediately greeted by the lovely warm sunshine I had been craving after months of grey wet weather! My dive buddies for this trip were Gary and Zak. I had met Gary on a previous liveaboard in Egypt and by coincidence we had both booked the same week on the Maldives. Zak was new and an excellent Photographer, and all three of us got on very well, I couldn’t ask for a better buddy team.

The dives started early Sunday morning with a 6am wakeup call and we had a day of nice gentle dives looking at critters and I saw my first Leaf Fish on the Kuda Giri Wreck. This easy relaxed diving was not going to last though as the next day we were due to start our channel diving which meant strong currents but also hopefully the chance to see a lot of big stuff!

The next few days were spent diving in the channels of South Male and Vaavu Atoll. I had never experienced such strong currents before but it didn’t take long to become comfortable drifting along in them. The occasional struggle against the current and extra work was worth it for dives such as Kandooma Tila where we dropped down to 30m and sat next to a shark cleaning station where we got to watch over thirty Grey Reef Sharks and White tip Reef Sharks metres from us being cleaned.

My best dive of the holiday was at Rakeedhoo Kand in Vaavu Atoll. It was a wall dive and we started the dive by seeing a school of eagle rays glide right past us and into the blue before I even had the chance to turn on my camera! We carried on down the wall following our guide and getting pictures of the usual wall reef life, when suddenly there was a lot of commotion ahead of us, tanks being banked and people pointing into the blue. I immediately spun around and along with Zak started trying to spot what the fuss was about. After a few seconds of nothing a shadow started appearing from ahead and we both assumed it was a Hammerhead as we were told there was a chance of them coming up from the deep on this dive. But the shadow kept on growing and growing, causing me a few seconds of irrational panic as I thought it was an enormous shark heading straight for us so I hid behind Zak! As it got closer the blurry shadow began to take shape and I realised it was in fact a Whale Shark so quickly pushed Zak out of the way to get photos of it swimming right past us! I was ecstatic and just as I thought the dive couldn’t get any better we spotted a manta in the depths below us and then a Leopard Shark!

We did get to see one more Whale Shark which we spotted between dive sites and snorkelled with. The rest of the trip was spent searching for Manta Rays, unfortunately with a disappointing outcome. Of the four manta focussed dives we only saw one in the distance for a few seconds, they seemed to not want to come out and play for us. We saw more on the surface after the dives playing and jumping out of the water, so they were there, we were obviously just very unlucky.

My second favourite dive was the only night dive of the trip at Mayaa Thila. This site is famous for the opportunity to dive with hunting White Tip Reef sharks and was certainly the best night dive that I have ever done. The moment we descended we were greeted by a huge stingray who was also hunting and within seconds I noticed many white tip reef sharks on all sides of me. It was great to sit and watch the elegant creatures whizz around hunting and by staying still the sharks got used to me, although a few got a little closer than I was comfortable with!

This was my first time in the Maldives and I thoroughly enjoyed the Whale Shark encounters and saw a lot of new reef life such as the leaf fish and frogfish. Although I was disappointed with the lack of mantas I still had some great dives with lovely people.

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