11 Best Places for Swimming with Whale Sharks

11 Best Places for Swimming with Whale Sharks

Celebrate International Whale Shark Day by planning a bucket-list trip to swim with the world's largest fish. Do your research beforehand so you're assured that the destination and operator you choose have rules that don't put the endangered sharks at risk.

Can you safely swim with whale sharks?

Scubadiver swimming with whale sharkTomas Kotouc/Shutterstock

There are many places in the world where you can swim with these gentle giants, but it's important to choose destinations and operators that practice responsible tourism to protect these endangered animals.

Interfering with a wild animal's natural behaviors puts the animal at risk, even if, like whale sharks, the animals seemingly don't notice human presence. That's one of the reasons it's important to look for a certified tour operator when possible. Though not all countries offer it, the U.S. federal government and the Mexico national park service certify tour operators in their respective countries, for example. Swimming with whale sharks is one of the 18 one-of-a-kind adventures to add to your bucket list.

Safe whale shark swimming practices

A whale shark diving from the surface with a diver who is holding an underwater video system swimming down with itbelizediversity/Shutterstock

It's not so much you that needs protection, but the whale sharks. Charlotte Birkmanis, a marine biologist at the University of Western Australia, advises anyone considering a whale shark encounter to be sure to choose a tour company that follows the World Wildlife Fund's whale shark encounter best practices.

Boat operators shouldn't feed the sharks to lure them, shouldn't crowd the animals, and should ensure their boat placement always leaves an escape route so the whale shark can leave when it wants to.

Swimmers should ensure flashes on cameras are disabled, keep their distance, never touch the animals, and not wear sunscreen or lotions. Swimmers should take particular care to stay away from a whale shark's tail. Not knowing you're behind it, the whale shark could accidentally hit you as it swings its tail from side to side. If you want to avoid swimming with the dangerous type of shark, be aware of the most shark-infested waters in the world.

La Paz, Mexico

Whale shark is a big fish in the sea.Chainarong Phrammanee/Shutterstock

La Paz, on the eastern side of the Baja peninsula, actively enforces Mexico's whale shark rules, making it one of the most ethical places in the world to get close to whale sharks. For example, only one boat can approach a whale shark at a time with a maximum of five swimmers in the water. Only licensed boats with operators who have taken a whale shark sustainability course are allowed into the whale shark area, and they must adhere to set time limits.

Whale sharks love the plankton-rich waters of the Sea of Cortez, which Jacques Cousteau called "the world's aquarium." Whale sharks have been spotted near La Paz year-round, with the majority visiting from October to April. One of the whale sharks' favorite places to congregate is a spot within sight of downtown La Paz and its seaside Malecon. It takes just a couple minutes by boat to get there, and you're likely to see humpback whales and other marine life on the way.

The laid-back town of La Paz has plenty to offer tourists, particularly those who love wildlife. At the nearby UNESCO biosphere reserve Espiritu Santo, snorkelers can swim with sea lions. Stay at Costabaja Resort & Spa, close to the beach, a marina, golf, and a selection of great restaurants. The Cortez Club provides trips to Espiritu Santo and the whale sharks.

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11 Best Places for Swimming with Whale Sharks, Source:https://www.rd.com/advice/travel/swimming-with-whale-sharks/