Gentle Giants: The Majestic Whale Sharks of the Maldives

In the vast blue expanse of the Indian Ocean, where the waves are home to timeless wonders, swims the largest fish known to humankind — the whale shark.

Cloaked in spots and stripes, these serene behemoths glide through the waters with a grace that defies their immense size.

Anatomy of a giant

The whale shark is an oceanic titan, reaching lengths of up to 18 metres (about 60 feet) and weighing as much as 30 tons. Its streamlined body is built for long, leisurely journeys through the ocean, with a broad, flattened head and a wide mouth for feeding.

It’s not just their size that makes whale sharks extraordinary. Their unique “checkerboard” pattern of light spots and stripes on a dark background serves as a defence against UV radiation. The disruptive colouration also works as a form of camouflage, similar to many military uniforms.


A gentle diet

Despite their intimidating size, whale sharks are considerate eaters, sustaining themselves on the smallest of ocean organisms. These “filter feeders” glide through the water with their mouths open, collecting tiny crustaceans, schooling fish, small squid and seaweed. Their gills, equipped with intricate filter pads, sift food from the water, allowing the whale sharks to feast without harming larger ocean residents.


Unique as a fingerprint

Each whale shark carries a unique identifier — a pattern of spots and stripes, as distinctive as a human fingerprint. This remarkable feature allows researchers to identify, track and study individual whale sharks, understanding their movements and behaviours over time. Citizen scientists around the world are encouraged to contribute their photos to global research efforts.


Endangered status

Listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, whale sharks face a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Threats in the Maldives include unmanaged tourism, vessel strikes, microplastics and entanglements in marine debris (known as “ghost nets”).

Standing strongly for the wellbeing of all ocean residents, JOALI BEING advocates for responsible marine encounters. We encourage travellers to choose ethical operators for their adventures in the Maldives, be it snorkelling, diving or cruises. We also manage and support several initiatives to remove “ghost nets”, reduce plastic waste, and strengthen sustainable fishing practices.


A surprise encounter

It was an ordinary day at JOALI BEING when some of our lucky Hosts had the rare privilege of encountering a whale shark right on our house reef. The excitement was palpable as they swam alongside the gentle giant, capturing images of the unique spots-and-stripes pattern.

We shared the photos with our colleagues at the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, who confirmed the shark’s identity as Maaz, a youthful whale shark not yet two decades old.

This serendipitous sighting was not just a thrill for those fortunate enough to be there but a poignant reminder of the wonders beneath the waves — and the importance of protecting them. At JOALI BEING, every encounter with the ocean's inhabitants is a moment of joy and a recognition of nature’s profound beauty and wisdom.

In the crystalline waters of the Maldives, where whale sharks, sea turtles and manta rays have roamed for millennia, we find a promise of hope and a call to action. Through a shared commitment to ocean conservation, we can ensure these majestic creatures thrive for generations to come.