Swimming with whale sharks do’s and don’ts
Back in 2017 St Helena voted the annual whale shark migration as one of our 7 Wonders! It is rare for a non-static feature to hold this status but the Islanders recognised their value and perhaps more special than that, the whale sharks found value in the Island.
There is a reason why these ocean giants travel extensive miles to our tiny outcrop in the middle of the South Atlantic. Research shows a balanced ratio of male and female varieties (a recent, unique discovery). This has delighted Scientists and Researchers who believe that St Helena is a whale shark mating region and crucial to the understanding of their reproductive cycle. Mating and birthing of this species has not been documented before.
Encountering the whale sharks during their seasonal visit is an exhilarating and almost sacred experience. Their grand presence and gentle aura commands a deep respect, making it hard to fathom what has driven this species to its current endangered status.
Here it is possible to swim alongside them but authorities have taken measures to keep interaction strictly regulated. Tours are offered by accredited local marine tour operators in accordance with the Environmental Best Practice Guidelines.
Whale sharks will readily approach boats and snorkelers if they do not feel threatened or harassed, however, swimmers are to remain a minimum of 3 meters swimming distance away from whale sharks, and a minimum of 4 meters away from their tail.
Scuba diving and deliberately touching or riding whale sharks are strictly forbidden and interaction time and numbers are also limited. The health of our marine life takes precedence over interaction or photographic opportunities.
For most, an experience like this is a once in a lifetime, and in our world of instant digital gratification, capturing these memories are not discouraged. Under water cameras are permitted, providing there is no flash photography.
Whale sharks have become a huge tourist attraction for St Helena. The Island approach to supporting the management of the marine tourism industry in a sustainable manner is achieved through the education, implementation and monitoring of the marine environmental schemes.
In addition measures are also being taken by the blue belt programme to combat the rafts of plastics arriving to our once pristine shorelines.
Our dedicated marine teams work to support the good practice of maintaining a clean and protected ocean for all who use is, but above all for the marine species who depend on it.