They may look haunting, but whale sharks really are the gentle giants of the seas and, thanks to a partnership between Four Seasons Resort Seychelles and the Marine Conservation Society of Seychelles (MCSS) guests can swim alongside them in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, and can be found swimming in the waters around the Seychelles usually in September and October, as they migrate to the continental shelf of the central west coast of Australia. A slow-moving filter feeding shark, they eat only zooplankton, so they pose no direct threat to humans and it is possible to swim and snorkel with them safely. Usually only seen offshore, the largest confirmed individual had a length of 12.65 metres (41.50 feet) and a weight of more than 21.5 tonnes (47,000 pounds), making them an incredible and rare spectacle for those lucky enough to view them.
The challenge lies in locating them, as the size of the whale sharks means they do not frequent the small bays of the islands. To see them, one needs to track them and go further out to sea by boat. Fortunately the MCSS has developed a system to track and meet the whale sharks as they pass through Seychelles on their annual migration.
Since 1996 the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, incorporating the Shark Research Institute Seychelles, has been monitoring and tagging whale sharks in Seychelles waters. As a result of these efforts the Government of Seychelles has declared the shark a protected species in Seychelles territorial waters.
To promote the beauty and wonder of these incredible fish, the organization understands that people want to see them, and are able to raise funds through whale shark watching excursions. Guests from Four Seasons Resort Seychelles can sign up for the program with the recreation team at the Resort.
MCSS spot and track whale sharks from a MicroLite aircraft that they take out daily during the whale shark season (weather permitting). If they spot any sharks, the recreation team at Four Seasons will be notified as boats are scrambled at nearby Anse La Mouche at around midday, where guests will be taken to the area where the whale sharks were spotted. This experience costs EUR 120.00, which goes straight to the MCSS to fund their work. The charge is only applicable if guests leave on the shark-spotting boat, but being able to see and swim with a whale shark cannot be guaranteed.
The Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles is a non-governmental organization made up of local scientists, ecologists and conservationists. The aims of the MCSS are to improve the conservation of marine eco-systems through scientific, management, educational and training programs.
Leisure Experience Manager Diarmuid Connolly comments, “Seychelles is one of the few places in the world that you can spot whale sharks, so this is really a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim with them. Sightings don’t happen every day, so signing up to the program is no guarantee of being able to see them, but the hard work of the MCSS means the prospect are increased. We will contact you if there is a sighting, so you can relax and enjoy the facilities of the Resort.”
Guests who don’t brave the ocean can learn more about whale sharks from the Resort’s resident Marine Educator, who is on hand to talk to guests about the marine life in the surrounding waters of the Indian Ocean.