Tanzania boasts a huge deal of natural attractions; mountains and national parks, historical sites, and the hidden treasures beneath the ocean. While planning a holiday to popular safari destinations is straightforward and easy, adventure lovers, specifically water sport enthusiasts, would love to do something different and their holidays are incomplete without visiting the unspoiled and the exotic gem amongst the Islands of the country – Mafia.
This archipelago of islands, uniquely positioned in the southern region of Tanzania offers a chance to explore places off the beaten path and away from the crowds. As November sets in, Mafia wakes up to the coming of very special guests from the ocean…
From November to February, the island is actively visited by a handful of lucky travelers for the promising sighting of humongous whale sharks with special characteristics. These species are not common sharks that are notorious as ‘life threatening’. Whale sharks are popularly called the ‘gentle giants, with many unique qualities. In Tanzania, Mafia is perhaps the only island that is frequently visited of these large creatures.
Fascinating characteristics of Mafia Island Whale Sharks
- These gigantic creatures are predominant in Kilindoni Bay, the west side of Mafia Island that is abundant with the planktons that are a feast for whale sharks.
- Whale Sharks are the biggest fishes, measuring up to 14 meters and with the actual size of above 18 meters.
- They breathe through gills and belong to the elasmobranches group of fishes, with a skeleton made of cartilage.
- Unlike dangerous sharks, this variety does not feed on large creatures. It is fascinating to know that their vision is limited to tiny plants and fishes. Large creatures such as human beings appear too huge to feed on.
- The gentle giants have a docile demeanor and lack bite. It is safe to swim close to these fishes without being attacked. They have large mouths to suck in large quantities of water and release through their gills.
- One can see a number of up to 24 whale sharks at a time (in a family of males, females and juveniles), which can be seen very close to boats and at stunningly large sizes underwater in Mafia island.
- Whale sharks have distinct dazzling blue spots on their body, as unique as human fingerprint. They often use this colour as a camouflage and their large body sizes as a defense mechanism against large predators.
- Whale sharks are enlisted as endangered species. These creatures are vulnerable to boat traffic and are highly sensitive to human touch that causes high levels of infection. It is recommended to enjoy their presence without exploiting or without going overboard while exploring.
Mafia and its surrounding waters are popular for underwater creatures and proudly, the island is Tanzania’s first marine park. With a diving depth of less than 30 meters, rich and unspoiled reefs stunningly embellishing the ocean, Mafia is a paradise for snorkeling and diving amongst many water sports. It is highly recommended to visit the island during October to March to enjoy the treasures of the archipelago; magical whale sharks and mesmerizing marine life under the blessed waters of Mafia.
Support Whale Shark Conservation
Whale shark tourism industry is growing steadily in Mafia Island and whale sharks are listed on the endangered species list. As such, scientists and conservationists are raising concerns for the potential impact of tourism on whale shark populations. It is recommended to follow the good practice guidelines during whale shark viewing as instructed by boat captains. As compassionate beings, we urge to ensure safe shark excursion and avoiding any form of disturbance to these endangered species
Want to swim with the whale sharks this season? Write to us and get at incredible offer at $500 including return flights from Dar es Salaam, full board accommodation and whale shark excursion.
Cover image courtesy: Mike Willard