For those wondering, a whale shark isn't a whale; it is a shark. It gets confusing with both denominations in the creature's name and the gigantic size. Fret not, as whale shark sounds dangerous by its name but is completely submissive and innocuous. Due to its tranquil nature, it is safe to get very close to this alluring creature and admire what wonders nature packs for everyone. Whale sharks have over 3000 teeth, but it's funny that they don't use it to eat, so they are pretty much useless. Another fascinating fact about whale sharks is that each whale shark has a different dot print on its body, just like different fingerprints in humans. Though not under a threat of extinction, the species are listed under the "vulnerable species" list due to illegal poaching.
April is the month when whale shark spottings are the highest amongst divers. And if you're lucky, you might see one in the month of February and March too. Unfortunately, the whale shark spottings have reduced drastically due to ocean pollution and killing of whale sharks by illegal means. During these months, Richelieu Rock at the Similan Islands are filled with crowds from all across the globe, only here to get a glance of the largest fish in the world.
Liveaboard tours for whale shark spotting commence in October and run until May. But remember, none of the tours would guarantee you that you'll be able to spot one. Don't worry if you fail to spot a whale shark, there's still a plenty of marine species that you will across. Few of the many are manta rays, sea turtles, and barracudas.
Hin Daeng translates to red rock and is one of the best place to encounter whale sharks in Thailand. Whale sharks are common here because it is both a feeding and cleaning station. There are red corals carpeted and whalesharks and manta rays visit all year round. If you are lucky, you might as well spot two or more whalesharks in a single dive. It cannot, however, be assured that you will spot them.
Best time to visit: April to June is the best time although they visit all year round
Cost: 5500 THB for both Hin Daeng and its sister island, Hin Muang.
How to reach: You can get to Ko Lanta by speedboat, minivan, ferry or a drive from Bangkok. From Ko Lanta, you can take a boat to Hin Daeng which is a ride of about two and half hours.
The whalesharks at Richelieu Rock is a diver's delight. Richelieu rock is considered to be the best spot for a whale shark encounter in Thailand. This dive site warrants multiple dives. Major whale sightings at Richelieu Rock occurred in the year 2001, 2012 and 2014.
Best time to visit: Encountering a whale shark is possible any time from November to April, but the ideal period is from March to April.
Cost: For a daytrip diving at Richelieu Rock, the total cost is around 6000 THB, which includes the prices of diver, park and other equipments. Food, taxis and dive guides are the basic inclusions in such packages.
How to reach: Can reach from Phuket, Surin Islands or Khao Lak. Richelieu Rock is about 1 hours 45 minutes from southern parts of Phuket. There are boats from Surin islands to Richelieu.
Apart from these places, the Shark Island (located southwest of Koh Tao) and Hin Wong Pinnacle (east side of Koh Tao) are two other popular dive sites to locate whale sharks. Although both these sites are frequented only by professional divers because of the challenges the water current here brings forth. It is advised to not visit these sites if you are a newbie to the diving scene.
Here are some tips for when you spot the gentle giant. First off, consider yourself the luckiest person in the world for it's not every day that one comes across the largest fish in the world. It time you finally tick this off your bucket list. Jokes apart, with spotting the largest fish in the world comes great responsibility. Enjoy the whale shark experience to the fullest but keep in mind a few dos and do nots.
1. Do not touch the whale shark: However friendly they may seem, touching the whale sharks is a BIG no. While they might not eat you, their large sized body can cause you grave harm. Maintain a safe distance and enjoy the unimaginable beauty in front of your eyes.
2. Maintain a safe distance: You must maintain at least a 2-meter distance from the head of a whale shark and a 4-meter distance from its tail. This is considered as a safe distance.
3. Do not use flash while clicking pictures: Flash photography is strictly prohibited inside waters as it might irritate the whale shark. And you would not want to face an irritated fish the size of 10 adult humans, would you?
4. Do not feed the whale sharks: A whale shark feeds on feeds on plankton - a type of sea organisms which include krill, copepods, and fish eggs. In addition to this, they also eat squids, fishes, and crabs. Feeding a whale shark yourself is strictly prohibited just like feeding zoo animals.
If you are lucky enough to spot the gentle giants, it will be an unforgettable experience. For liveaboard tours and swimming with whale sharks, you can contact local diving shops in Thailand or contact them online.