Sharks have a commanding presence, that’s for sure. This presence strikes either fear or awe into those who meet them in their natural habitat, like in the Maldives where many types of shark make their home. Fortunately divers will overcome any inhibitions that the thought of sharks may cause, and they’ll discover for themselves just how magnificent and virtually harmless the sharks of the Maldives really are.
Like any large creature with such natural power, respect should be maintained. Despite the many divers who have shared the waters with sharks around these secluded islands, shark attacks are not just rare but practically non-existent. Searching online for shark attacks in the Maldives turns up only humorous videos that make light of the presence of sharks as a risky encounter and even use the Jaws theme song. However, thousands have swam safely with the sharks from liveaboards and on resort excursions.
The Usual Shark Suspects in the Maldives
Smaller sharks, young black tip reef sharks, are commonly seen twitching speedily around the shores of the islands. They are hard to photograph with their quick movements, but frequent the shallow lagoons so are probably the most spotted type for divers and non-divers alike. On the either side of the spectrum, whale sharks seem to dwarf these little guys, which you’ll probably even forget are sharks after seeing the likes of the island giants. In further contrast, whale sharks move much more slowly and are also hard to capture in a photo frame but it’s because they’re so immense.
Try not to use all the space on your camera too soon though, you just might see a tiger shark or hammerhead if you’re in the right place at the right time. Or perhaps the wrong place at the wrong time if you have a fear of sharks. They’re not as common as the other species but have been spotted in certain areas, tiger sharks in Foammula and Huvadhoo and hammerheads in Madivaru, Rasdhoo Atoll. For hammerheads it’ll be an early morning dive to try to catch a glimpse at them. They’re known as a more aggressive species’ but again, the Maldives has not experienced the issues that are perpetuated in the media. Nonetheless, divers should let these sharks have their space and drift slowly away (all the while capturing a photo if you can!). It’s said that the food sources keep the marine life well fed and therefore uninterested in foreign prey.
On the topic of stripes, young zebra sharks are also found in the Maldives. Until maturity they are characterized by their vertical stripe pattern when stripes turn to spots and they’re known more characteristically as leopard sharks. Some deep dive spots of the north and south of the island chain are known for leopard sharks, including Hanimaadhoo areas in the North and Huvadhoo in the south. As a bonus, Huvadhoo atoll’s coral and depths make it an overall great diving destination, and further backs last week’s article which endorses the distant atolls of the north and south for some exceptional diving.
If it’s white tip reef sharks and grey reef sharks that are on the list, a trip to Mayaa Thila should turn up some photo ops. Or head to Kandooma for white tips as well as other cool highlights like schools of Jacks. For nurse sharks you may need a keen eye to spot them sleeping on the sea floor. A liveaboard trip that goes through Meemu and Laamu will likely hit Kuredu which is known for nurse sharks as well as whale sharks.
It was time for many to rejoice in 2009 when the news circulated that regulations had been put in place to ban shark hunting in the Maldives. In 2010 extensions were made to these restrictions making it more difficult to fish for sharks anywhere near the Maldives and to export the now banned products. What tempts hunters to reel in sharks is the worth of shark fins and liver oils among other things like skins and teeth. Certainly one of the most heart-wrenching sights is finding de-finned sharks lying on the sea bed – fins removed while alive and then just left to perish. Fortunately for divers in the Maldives, thanks to these restrictions, the images they’ll see are lively and majestic living creatures.
To survey shark populations some innovative, unobtrusive methods are being used, such as baited camera “traps”. They’re not used to catch the sharks, just catch them on film to track and record the frequency and habits of the different species. Other nations that deal with shark fishing issues are South Korea, Brazil, New Zealand, and the USA.
Coming face to face with a shark can become a heart-racing but harmless experience, for those who dive in the Maldives. Let this vacation change your perspective on the big fish with the bad rep. Check out our packages and dive in with the sharks.