Nestled in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is a tropical paradise that attracts over a million visitors a year.
The Republic of Maldives has 1,192 coral islands and is well-known for its white sand beaches and warm, shallow waters.
It’s a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers, who can explore a diversity of ecosystems and marine life.
With that marine life comes a spectacular collection of different species, from sea turtles to manta rays. The Maldives is also one of the most popular destinations for people looking to snorkel or dive with sharks.
The Maldives is home to around 25 to 30 species of shark, most of which you can swim with safely.
There has only been one shark attack in the Maldives, which occurred off the coast of Maafilaafushi island, in the Lhaviyani Atoll, some 130 km from the capital of Malé.
Are there Sharks in the Maldives?
Many different shark species live around the Maldives, but few are considered dangerous to humans. Reef sharks are among the most common, but the biggest draw, quite literally, is the whale shark.
Whale sharks are permanent residents in the area but are more commonly seen in “May, November, and December when the sea is calm, and the visibility is good.”
Unfortunately, swimming or snorkeling with whale sharks has proved so popular that “Dozens of boats and hundreds of tourists can be in the water at a time chasing one shark.”
Even if seeing a whale shark is on your bucket list, if you’re planning a trip to the Maldives, you may want to focus on some of the other species.
Other diving and snorkeling experiences available will prove just as memorable as swimming with whale sharks but cause the creatures less distress.
What Kind of Sharks are in the Maldives?
Of the 25 to 30 species of shark in the Maldives, you’re most likely to encounter one of the following ten common species:
#1 Blacktip Reef Sharks
As its name suggests, the blacktip reef shark most commonly occurs close to coral reefs, where it hunts for small schooling fish and the occasional crustacean.
With prominent black markings on the tips of its fins, the blacktip reef shark is easy to identify and distinguish from the other reef sharks that frequent the area.
Generally timid, the blacktip will usually move away when approached by divers or snorkelers. It has been responsible for a few attacks on humans, but none in the Maldives.
Blacktip reef sharks are small, energetic sharks that often hunt in groups, utilizing a range of hunting techniques to secure their prey.
Juvenile blacktips enter very shallow waters, possibly as a form of protection against potential predators, and can often be seen close to the beaches of the Maldives islands.
#2 Whitetip Reef Sharks
Whitetip reef sharks inhabit similar areas to their cousins, the blacktips. They can be found on coral reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region and particularly in the shallow coastal waters of the Maldives.
These slim sharks use their long, thin bodies and flattened snouts to maneuver through the cracks and crevices in the coral reefs, flushing out their prey as they go.
Often working together, they move “over the reef face like a phalanx of soldiers.”
It’s unlikely you’ll witness such activity in the Maldives or anywhere else, as whitetip reef sharks are nocturnal hunters who spend their days resting in caves and crevices or piled on top of one another on the seafloor.
Whitetip reef sharks aren’t aggressive, but they will approach divers out of curiosity. These traits make them the ideal species to dive with.
They’re easy sharks to identify due to the prominent white tips on their dorsal and caudal fins.
#3 Grey Reef Shark
The abundance of coral reefs around the Maldives makes it an ideal habitat for several species of reef sharks, including the grey reef shark.
Stockier than the blacktip, the grey reef shark is a nocturnal predator that usually hunts alone. During the day, it’s almost as sociable as the whitetip, resting on the reefs in groups of between 10 and 20 individuals.
Grey reef sharks aren’t as gentle and docile as the other reef sharks in the Maldives and have been known to attack humans. It’s more likely to show “explicit threat behavior,” however, raising its snout and arching its back in an effort to scare you away.
Despite this, the grey reef shark isn’t territorial, although it does return to the same area of the reef continually, making it easier to locate.
#4 Tiger Sharks
Tiger sharks are present throughout the year in certain parts of the Maldives. The deep reefs of the Fuhvamulah atoll have become famous for their large, permanent population of tiger sharks, which some believe may include up to 200 adults.
Diving with tiger sharks isn’t for the faint-hearted, however. Not only are these big sharks, measuring between 10 and 14 feet long, but they’re also fast and fearless.
The tiger shark’s diet includes everything from fish, crustaceans, and squid to seabirds and garbage.
Fast and agile, the tiger shark hunts predominantly at night and almost always alone.
Tiger sharks can be extremely aggressive if they feel threatened, but can still be safe to dive with if you have an experienced guide escorting you.
#5 Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks
The scalloped hammerhead is a distinctive species with a T-shaped head that bears notches resembling a scallop shell.
These medium-to-large sharks measure around 13 feet long and are frequent visitors to the Fuvahmulah atoll. Although large, these sharks are skittish and difficult to approach.
Although juvenile scalloped hammerheads can be found quite close to shore, the adults prefer deeper waters, sometimes descending as far as 600ft.
Scalloped hammerhead sharks feed primarily on bony fish, along with crustaceans and rays. They are also known to prey on other, smaller shark species.
#6 Whale Shark
The whale shark is the largest species of shark in the world, reaching lengths of up to 60 feet, but are considered the gentle giants of our oceans.
Living off a diet of plankton, the whale shark is one of three species of filter-feeding sharks, all of which are large yet non-aggressive.
The whale shark is easy to identify. If the size doesn’t give its identity away, the distinctive white spots and stripes decorating its body soon will.
There are several whale shark sanctuaries in and around the Maldives that provide vital breeding grounds and nursery areas. Tourist interactions in these areas are restricted to help protect the sharks
Whale sharks take a long time to mature, with the females only reaching sexual maturity at around 50 years old. Fortunately, they still have plenty of time to reproduce, as they can live for up to 130 years.
#7 Nurse Shark
The nurse shark is relatively large, measuring approximately 6 feet long. It is commonly found in tropical and subtropical waters throughout the Pacific Ocean.
Usually yellowish-brown, they are easy to distinguish from the predominantly grey-colored sharks that frequent the waters of the Maldives.
Nurse sharks are bottom feeders and have two prominent barbels that assist them in their search for prey.
For the most part, nurse sharks are harmless to humans but will bite defensively if threatened or stepped on. As the nurse shark is a suction feeder, it might be unwilling to let go if it does bite you.
#8 Thresher Shark
Thresher sharks are usually found in open waters far from shore, but in the Maldives, it moves into shallower waters close to the island of Fuvahmulah to visit a cleaning station located there.
One of the largest sharks in the world, the thresher shark can reach lengths of up to 24.9 feet, although most measure between 10.5 and 15 feet.
The thresher shark’s long tail makes it easy to identify, even if it’s zipping past you at over 40 kph! Fortunately, when thresher sharks visit a cleaning station, they generally swim quite slowly to give the cleaner fish a chance to do a thorough job.
These are the most common sharks in the Maldives and the ones you’re most likely to encounter when in the water. Other less common species of shark are occasionally spotted by divers and snorkelers, but sightings can’t be guaranteed.
In addition to the sharks listed above, you could also encounter the following:
- Zebra shark – also known as the leopard shark, the zebra is a sluggish creature that’s sometimes seen resting on the bottom during the day.
- Guitar shark – a member of the ray family, the guitar shark hides under a layer of sand, waiting to ambush its bottom-dwelling prey.
- Silky shark – one of the most common oceanic sharks to be seen in the Maldives, the silky shark is most commonly encountered around deepwater reefs, sometimes diving to depths up to 1,600 feet.
What Sharks will You see Snorkeling?
Depending on where you go snorkeling in the Maldives, you can see whale sharks, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks, as well as grey reef sharks and nurse sharks.
The best place to see whale sharks is at the famous Whale Shark Point off the coast of Maamigili Island. This protected area is home to over 80 whale sharks and is one of the world’s best locations for swimming with these gentle, majestic creatures.
Whale sharks also frequent Hanifaru Bay, in the Baa Atoll, which they use as a breeding ground. This is also a good place to spot grey reef sharks.
Another snorkeling hotspot is the Vaavu Atoll close to the island of Dhigu. This is the best place to view nurse sharks and blacktip reef sharks.
Baby reef sharks frequently gather in large numbers around Maguhdhuvaa Island in the southern section of the Maldives.
What Sharks will You see Scuba Diving?
Scuba diving in the Maldives gives you the opportunity to come face-to-face with numerous sharks, including those you’ll likely see while snorkeling.
Going a little deeper into the ocean means you could also encounter tiger sharks and scalloped hammerheads, as well as less common species like the thresher, zebra, and guitar sharks.
Fuvahmulah is the best place to see pelagic species like the thresher shark. This is the only island where you can see thresher sharks throughout the year.
Tiger sharks are also present in Fuvahmulah throughout the year, coming close to the island to clean up the waste from the local fish market.
To see the iconic hammerheads, you need to head out to the Rasdhoo Atoll, where Hammerhead Point is situated.
Head out at dawn anytime between January and April, and you stand a good chance of seeing large groups of hammerheads, although this trip is only suitable for advanced divers.
Other top spots for encountering sharks in the Maldives include Huvadhoo and South Malé, where grey and whitetip reef sharks are regularly spotted.
Is it Safe to Swim with Sharks in the Maldives? (Shark attacks)
As long as you snorkel or dive with a reputable and environmentally-focused operator, swimming with sharks in the Maldives is perfectly safe.
Up until May of this year, there had never been a shark attack in the area, despite the number of people that flock there to enjoy the waters.
It’s not known what type of shark was responsible for this sole attack, but it resulted in severe injuries to the victim’s right calf.
The victim was a local fisherman, rather than a visiting diver, who fell overboard while fishing in the Lhaviyani atoll.
Up to 30 different species of sharks swim in the waters around the Maldives, making it one of the best places to encounter these fascinating creatures.
Snorkeling offers fewer opportunities of seeing sharks than scuba diving but is a great way to enjoy the colorful submarine world of the coral reefs in the area.
Juvenile blacktip and whitetip reef sharks are frequently seen around Maguhdhuvaa Island, while whale sharks are the highlight of any trip to Hanifaru Bay.
In the Maldives, divers have the rare opportunity of seeing thresher sharks in their natural environment, and, for those brave enough, there’s also the option of diving with tiger sharks.
With many reputable dive operators in the area, it’s possible to enjoy the company of sharks safely without endangering either your own life or theirs. Just watch out for those companies that are willing to harass natural wildlife for the sake of the perfect selfie.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.