Whale Sharks - Gentle Giants

Code of Conduct


To dive with Whale Sharks in their natural habitat is a breathtaking and a very rewarding experience. The whale shark is the biggest ‘Shark’ and fish in the ocean.


You do have to understand that this is NOT a whale but a shark. Contrary to popular believe sharks are ferocious creatures and as the biggest of all sharks the whale shark is a gentle giant.


The whale shark has a huge mouth that can open up to 1.4 meters wide but feeds on krill and plankton. The Whale Shark has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, small eyes, five large gill slits, two dorsal fins that are on its back and two pectoral fins, which are on its sides. The spiracle, located behind the shark’s eyes is the vestigial first gill slit used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor. Its tail has a top fin much larger than the lower fin.


Whale Sharks are passive creatures and can be disturbed by aggressive behavior such as being touched or chased. We need to take responsibility to ensure the survival of these creatures for future generations. This means that causing minimal disturbance to the sharks when we approach them by boat or when diving. Although the whale sharks are harmless, their sheer size makes it necessary to exercise caution around them, especially at its tail end.


Divers need to be aware of local regulations or protocols that are set by the dive organization regarding the behavior around the whale shark before entering the water. A Code of Conduct was created by the Marine Megafauna foundation to ensure the safety of both you as the diver and the whale shark.


The following is the general code of conduct for swimming and diving

with whale sharks in all countries:

©Simon J. Pierce, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Scuba Mozambique
©Simon J. Pierce, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Scuba Mozambique

When SWIMMING with a whale shark:

  • Do NOT touch, ride or chase a whale shark
  • Do NOT restrict normal movement or behaviour of the whale shark
  • Maintain a minimum distance of
    • 3m from the whale shark’s side
    • 5m from it’s nose and a
    • 4m from its tail end
  • Do NOT use a flash when taking photos
  • Do NOT use underwater motorized driver propulsions


When DIVING with a whale shark:

All vessel operators that the ‘in water’ activities of swimmers comply with the following:

  • The whale sharks should be observed for a few minutes before the swimmers enter the water to determine the direction of travel and behavior of the shark. It’s advised that the skipper or dive master first get the relevant sighting data before the interaction with swimmers.
  • Divers must treat all whale sharks with caution at all times. Although the shark appear to be ‘Gentle Giants’ they can cause serious injury if the swimmer is struck with its tail or fins.
  • Divers should NOT touch a whale shark under any circumstances and must maintain a minimum distance of at least 3 meters from the shark.
  • Divers must NOT try to block a whale shark from its chosen direction of movement.
  • ‘Flash’ photography should be used with caution if at all and never from underneath the shark.
  • The maximum number of divers to dive with a whale shark at a time is 10 divers.
  • Divers may NOT use dive scooters or any motorized propulsion aid to swim within the contact zone of the whale shark.

Whale Shark Interaction - Vessel Contact Zones

©Simon J. Pierce, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Scuba Mozambique
©Simon J. Pierce, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Scuba Mozambique

When in the contact zone of a whale shark:

  • All vessels should take care when in the contact zone to avoid physically impacting the whale shark or scaring it away.
  • ONE vessel can operate within the contact zone at any time. All other vessels should use boat power as necessary to avoid violation into the contact zone while another vessel is busy.
  • The first that is in the contact zone are seen to be ‘in contact’ despite of the position of any of the other vessels. The second vessel to arrive in the general surrounding area may queue outside the contact zone to have access to the shark. All other vessels are to uphold a distance of 300 meters from the contacted shark or should make the effort to locate another shark.
  • Licensed Vessels can remain ‘in contact’ with the shark for a maximum of 30 minutes from the time of the first entry into the water.
  • If there are 2 or more sharks found within 150 meters from each other, the limit of the vessel ‘in contact’ will apply to both sharks until they separate by more than 150 meters.
  • In the event that there are 2 or more whale sharks ‘in contact’ with the divers from different vessels, move within 150 meters from each other, the skippers and dive masters must co-operate to ensure the safety of the whale shark and swimmers.

The following counts for all vessels:

  • Vessels or their tenders may NOT approach within 30 meters of a whale shark and must move at a slow speed in the contact zone.
  • Vessels that approach from ahead of a whale shark’s direction of movement must drop their swimmers no less than 30 meters from the approaching shark and must move out of the path of the shark.
  • Not more than 16 passengers may be carried on any Licensed Dive Vessel in the Galapagos National Park.
  • Vessels that enter the contact zone must display the international dive flag to indicate that divers are in the water and maintain radio contact with approaching vessels to indicate that diving is in progress.
  • Divers must enter the water with minimum of disturbance and also the diver shouldn’t interfere with the natural activities of the sharks.

Code of Conduct originally developed by Simon J. Pierce, Marine Megafauna Foundation and adapted from Scuba Mozambique 


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