Stick to the Code

THE MADAGASCAR WHALE SHARK PROJECT

Photos: Stella Diamant and whale shark; Copyright Simon J. Pierce
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For many an eco-adventurer, swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is the hot bucket list item of the moment. Here’s why…

1) Sometimes it’s good to feel small. Weighing in at 12 tons and reaching up to 60 feet in length or more, the whale shark is the largest fish in the sea. No need to worry, however: you’re definitely not on the menu. Despite their enormous mouths and thousands of teeth, whale sharks eat only microorganisms.

2) It’s wet and warm – whale sharks prefer temperate, tropical waters. They are pelagic, living in the open sea but not in the greatest depths of the ocean. You can choose to swim with these epic water beasts in the welcoming waters off Mexico, Honduras, Philippines and Madagascar.

3) You can keep up – with an average swim speed of 3MPH and already accustomed swimming alongside humans, these gentle giants are very docile creatures. Whale sharks are filter feeders and swim close to the surface, scooping up plankton and any other tiny sea-dwellers they can get into their colossal mouths.

4) Shock and awe – like snowflakes or fingerprints, no two whale sharks are alike. In fact, each has its own distinctive pattern of pale-yellow spots and stripes.

Photo: Stella Diamant on boat; Copyright: Madagascar Whale Shark Project

All that said, it’s critical to swim in our lane. Enter Stella Diamant, a keen adventurer, wildlife photographer and biologist by training who has become a whale-shark champion. Belgian native Stella founded the Madagascar Whale Shark Project (MWSP) in 2018, setting up an educational program for local children, recruiting Malagasy staff and implementing a code of conduct in Nosy Be. To date, Stella and the MWSP team have identified more than 300 different whale sharks while guiding eco-adventurers from around the world through a whale shark swimming experience that is safe for human and shark alike.

What threatens the biggest shark in the world? Sadly, plastic pollution, boat collisions, bycatch, targeted illegal fisheries and climate change. Sightings of the majestic animal have been declining since 2005 off Mozambique, where a study was being done. No data is available about the population decline or increase in Madagascar, yet Stella and the dedicated team at MWSO are working to change all that in the future.

In response, the country’s conservation efforts and responsible tourism practices are steadily improving. It is critical to choose a responsible operator who promotes a safe and respectful swimming with whale shark experience. Thankfully, the Madagascar Whale Shark Project has made it easier to choose wisely and swim smart.

Stella Diamant and whale shark; Copyright: Simon J. Pierce  

Designed to ensure better cohabitation between humans and whale sharks, the CODE OF CONDUCT advise boats and swimmers how to help protect whale sharks and their sustainable future. Diamant explains, “Adopting a code of conduct for swimming with whale sharks in Madagascar is about minimizing significant risks for sharks and humans while maximizing the guest experience. Our respectful approach to engaging with whale sharks promotes a relaxed atmosphere between operators and provides clients with a life-changing experience.”

This American Revel Traveler has made a $25 donation to the MWSP and encourages your support to help gather more data, educate and inspire others to launch their own conservation efforts. We’ve got something for all speeds –

ARMCHAIR ACTIVIST

Name and adopt a whale shark with a one-time contribution to the Madagascar Whale Shark Project. This includes naming rights, for life. You’ll receive monthly updates each season about your shark, as well as regular newsletter and a certificate by mail. For options please email info@madagascarwhalesharks.org.

JUST DO IT

Whale shark season is Nosy Be runs from September to December; the best time to see them is in October and November (along with humpback whales). Join Stella and her team for a day in the water to swim with whale sharks. For private trips with Stella and her team, please email at info@madagascarwhalesharks.org.

Photo/Copyright: Madagascar Whale Shark Project