Brad Climpson is a marine biologist who spent the last 20 years living on the edge of Australia's Great Barrier Reef. His passion for the underwater realm has taken him to Fiji, Indonesia, Bermuda, and the Maldives. An accomplished scuba diver, Brad shares his enthusiasm for one of the world's most intriguing animals, the whale shark.
As a marine biologist, and really just as a lover of marine life in general, I have been lucky enough to spend time in many of the oceans around our beautiful planet. At the beginning of my career, most of my initial snorkeling and diving experiences were on the Great Barrier Reef in Far North Queensland, Australia. What an incredible area to interact with such an array of marine life. I remember once, many years ago, being on the back deck of a small cruise ship I was working on; I was talking about some of the local marine life in the area as we were moored next to the reef, when out of the blue, a whale shark swam between us and the reef! The snorkelers in the water were lucky enough to see it cruise by, however for us on the ship we just caught a glance. This was when I it first occurred to me that with all the marine interactions I’d had, I still hadn’t been swimming with whale sharks, a childhood dream of mine. The quest had officially begun!
Whale sharks are one of the most popular marine animals people seek interactions with. The name itself is a brilliant combination of two of the most fascinating animals that live in the ocean. Although they can reach the length of small to mid-size whales, they do not belong to the Cetacean family and are rather part of the Elasmobranchs, the cartilaginous fishes. Full-size whale sharks can reach up to 12 meters (40 feet), however individuals of this size aren’t commonly seen. They are a pantropical species, meaning they are found worldwide but generally only in relatively warm water. Whale sharks are filter feeders; they sweep plankton up in their broad mouths, gaining their great size from consuming large volumes of these energy rich primary producers.
With everything we know about whale sharks, including the knowledge that they are gentle giants, we can relatively easily predict where we might be able to find and interact with them. There are places from the west coast of Australia to the Philippines, around Mexico, and even Indonesia, amongst others, where these interactions regularly occur. A few years ago I was lucky enough to have my first, and still greatest, interaction with a whale shark.
I was in one of the premium whale shark areas of the world, the Maldives. We were on a live-aboard dive/snorkel yacht, and our crew knew just where to search for them. Whale sharks can be found year-round in the Maldives, although different times of year we find them in different areas. We were there in April, which meant searching the eastern side of the atoll group around Ari and Baa. Our crew spotted a 6 meter (20 foot!) individual after about 20 minutes of searching; we all dived in and swam in the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives for 15 minutes with this amazing animal. Truly, one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life. A quarter of an hour might not seem like a long time, but it felt like hours while we were in the water.
I call the Maldives one of the premier locations for whale sharks; this doesn’t mean you will see 20 or 30 or 50 individuals. It means you will be swimming with at least one individual, in some of the clearest waters you will ever encounter them in. Being filter feeders, we know that whale sharks are generally found in plankton-rich water, which can reduce the visibility substantially. To be in an area with such good visibility is an absolute treat.
The main reason I’m sharing everything I know about whale sharks, is because Zegrahm is embarking on two expeditions to the Maldives in January 2017, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the leaders of these trips. We will be on a 20-person super yacht, designed to cruise through the amazing tropical waters of this unique and amazing destination. During the cruise we will see many of the amazing atolls, dive and snorkel with the incredible marine life, and even have the opportunity to search for and swim with whale sharks. We may also encounter manta rays, another filter feeding animal. The Maldives is one of the finest locations to interact with manta rays; perhaps I’ll tell you some of my experiences with this pelagic species another time.
I know the crew of the MV Orion, which we are chartering, will be outstanding with respect to finding all the things we dream of when visiting tropical locations, as well as all of our out-of-water needs.
For now, get out there and experience as much as possible. And if you join me in the Maldives, I’ll be right alongside to share everything I can with you.