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Video: Swimming with Thanda Island’s resident whale sharks

By Katia Damborsky   1 January 2019

Swimming with whale sharks is sure to be the highlight of a Tanzania yacht charter vacation, and there is no better place to see them than off the coast of Thanda Island, where a pod of whale sharks has taken up residence.

Located just 40 miles adrift from Tanzania lies the island of Mafia, an unspoilt paradise which takes its name from the Swahili word for ‘healthy dwelling place’. The name is fitting, given that the ocean between Mafia and neighbouring Thanda Island is a playground for one of the ocean’s most elusive species of fish: the whale shark.

This lesser-travelled region in the Indian Ocean is currently the only place in the world known to play host to whale sharks year round. Researchers have discovered that their food supply is so ample, they do not need to migrate in search of fresh food, as other groups do.

In fact, local marine biologists are so accustomed to seeing the resident pod, which is comprised of roughly 200 whale sharks, that they can identify them on sight based on their size and distinctive markings alone.

The oceans between Mafia Island and Thanda Island are a playground for one of the ocean’s most elusive species of fish: the whale shark.

girl in bikini with scuba gear swims with a whale shark, both are close to the surface and a second whale shark can be seen in the background

Anyone keen to dive with the gentle giants has the opportunity to do so when they visit Thanda Island, as YachtCharterFleet’s editorial team quickly discovered when we were given exclusive access to the island in December.

While sightings aren't guaranteed, they are most prevalent in these waters between October and March, when they tend to inhabit shallower waters and come up to the surface more frequently.

During the excursion, Thanda’s resident marine biologist will be on hand to help you get as close as you can to the magnificent animals, and the island’s sleek speed boat will transport guests around the dive sites in supreme comfort and style. Ice-cold champagne will be on deck, as well as water toys for making the most out of the waters in between shark sightings.

During the excursion, Thanda’s resident marine biologist will be on hand to help you get as close as you can to the magnificent fish.

girl in snorkelling gear looking on at whale shark near the surface of the water

Staff from the island will play spotter on the bow of the boat, keeping a weather eye on the horizon for dark shapes under the water or fins slicing above the surface. To see these incredible creatures from an alternative perspective, you can join them at the helm and watch the sharks come up and investigate the boat.

As the whale sharks draw nearer, you can then dive into the water and see them up close. Whale sharks are docile creatures, who are usually happy to allow snorkellers and scuba divers to be near them; although it’s recommended you don’t touch them.

The editorial team was lucky enough to spot plenty of whale sharks on our two-hour excursion.

Whale sharks can measure up to 12m (40ft) in length; but in spite of their massive size, they pose no threat to humans. They are filter-feeding carpet sharks, capable of sucking in 1500 cubic gallons of water per hour and extracting plankton from the water mass.

The editorial team was lucky enough to spot plenty of whale sharks on our two-hour excursion. Many were close to the surface of the water, allowing us to idle next to them and admire their incredible breadth from just inches away. If they descended deeper into the water, we were able to glide along the surface and marvel at them below us.

YachtCharterFleet swam with the whale sharks as part of our experience onboard the classic Thanda Island Yacht Cruise whilst staying on Thanda Island. 

whale shark underwater with is mouth open, with scuba diver near surface of the sea

For more information about chartering a superyacht around East Africa, please get in touch with your preferred charter broker.

Alternatively, view all our complete guide to Thanda Island.

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