Wondrous whale sharks! The magic of swimming alongside the world’s largest fish, which can grow up to 40ft, off a paradise island in the Maldives
Looming out of the turquoise blue a whale shark measuring around 26 feet long silently swam towards me.
I wasn’t sure how I would feel meeting the world’s largest fish – especially growing up with a fear of the sea – but I felt completely at ease as the gentle giant glided alongside me with its spotted skin shimmering in the sun.
Earlier that day I’d asked Richard Somerset, a territory director for the diver training organisation Padi, to sum up the whale shark in three words, and I could now see how his reply – ‘big, mysterious and beautiful’ – fits the bill perfectly.
MailOnline Travel’s Sadie Whitelocks attended a diving festival on the island of Dhidhoofinolhu in the Maldives where she had a close encounter with a whale shark
Sadie’s home during the watery festival – the Lux South Ari Atoll resort. Whale sharks are seen in the waters here all year round
I was diving with Somerset and a crew from Padi, including the firm’s CEO, Dr Drew Richardson, during an underwater festival in the Maldives, which has been running for the past ten years out at the luxury Lux resort on the southern island of Dhidhoofinolhu. This year it was run in collaboration with Padi.
During the week-long event, I’d learned how little we know about the whale shark and how the species is currently listed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (Icun), due to human threat.
Abdul Basith Mohamed, a project co-ordinator at the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, told us how 54 per cent of whale sharks sport human-related injuries with many of them hit by fishing boats or by tourist vessels.
In some parts of the world, the large fish – which can grow up to 40 feet long – is also illegally hunted for its meat with the fins sold to restaurants in Asia for highly prized shark fin soup.
The whale shark is currently listed as ‘endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. They are sometimes injured by boats and many are illegally hunted. This is the whale shark that Sadie encountered
Sea-ing the sights: Sadie during one of the excursions during the underwater festival
Whale shark tourism is booming in the Maldives. Above, a diver next to the whale shark Sadie spotted.