There are 27 different species of sharks in the Maldives but there are only a dozen or so you will see while diving (if you have a guide who knows what he is doing). I made about 6000 dives in the Maldives during the last 12 years and here is my list of most spotted sharks, for your convenience I also wrote down how big the chance is you see one and what would be a good location to spot them.
1 Whitetip reefshark
On most dives you will see whitetip reefsharks. They are small and have a long elongated body. They are very docile and will not harm you. Ofcourse it is not a good idea to feed them or try to catch them as they are still sharks and have teeth! You will see whitetip reefsharks on almost every dive, especially on the dives on the thila’s in the Ari Atoll.
2 Grey reefshark
Grey reef sharks thrive in the Maldives, especially since the ban on shark finning in 2010 was implemented. Fisherman even complain because they cannot land a snapper anymore and they only get the head (the rest is bitten off by the grey reef sharks). You will find grey reef sharks on many of the dives where there is current. If there is no current they wonder off and they can be anywhere. Good places for grey reef sharks are Kandooma Thila, Bathalaa Maaga, Fish Head, Miyaru Kandu, Guraidhoo corner, Rasdhoo Madivaru and many others, mostly the channels on the East side of the Maldives or thilas in front of channels so pick up some current. If you join a live aboard or safari in the Maldives you will see grey reef sharks on 50% of the dives (again, if you have a guide who knows what he is doing).
3 Nurse shark
There are some places where they are in abundance but you are not allowed to dive everywhere. There are many at the Maayafushi jetty in the Ari Atoll but they do not allow you to dive there but there are also many at the Alimathaa jetty in the Vaavu (Felidhoo) Atoll. In the past I was happy if I saw 1 or 2 nurse sharks on a whole safari but it seems that nurse sharks like Italian pasta a lot. The Italian resort of Alimathaa throws a lot of excess pasta that is left over from the buffet in the sea and that attracts lots of nurse sharks. At one dive I counted over 200. Lately they changed their behavior and there are not that many anymore. Maybe they stopped feeding or maybe they found out that eating pasta every night makes you fat but there are less and they are more spread out. Very likely that if you join a live aboard or safari your boat will anchor at Alimathaa and do a dusk or night dive as every safari has 1 or 2 night dives in their 1 week program. Personally I prefer the dusk dive as the night dives become very busy and chaotic and not all groups behave during the dive. Besides, coming to the surface with 5 or more dhoni’s waiting to pick up their divers is dangerous.
Nurse sharks are harmless but nonetheless they have a vice like grip and can probably break your bones with their bite. In a natural setting they eat lobster and crack their Armour and suck in the soft parts so you can imagine they must be strong. It is not a good idea to handle fish or any food as they hunt by smell and have poor eyesight.
4 Whale shark
The whale shark is the largest living fish but is not dangerous as it feeds on plankton. It is seen almost on a daily basis by divers and spotters in the South Ari Atoll. In the West monsoon they are more seen on the South and East side of the South Ari atoll and in the East monsoon they are more seen on the South and West side of the South Ari atoll. This is because they feed on plankton that flows out on the opposite side out of the Atoll from which the monsoon comes. The whale shark is a beautiful fish but with diving equipment it is difficult to keep up with it. You have a bigger chance to keep up with a whale shark while snorkeling. They swim normally 1 meter under the surface and they love sun, actually they are some sort of swimming solar panel. I have also seen them sunbathing in the shallows. A whale shark can grow up to 14 meters but in the Maldives you will rarely see these. In the Maldives they are seldom spotted larger than 8 meters with 5 to 6 meters an average size (juveniles).
5 Blacktip reefshark
Blacktip reefsharks are probably more seen by people staying on a resort than by divers as they like to really stay in the shallows and I mean shallows. You will find these in waters as shallow as 20 cm (juveniles) where they hunt for baitfish. Blacktips are very shy and they will most likely bolt when you are close. On a check dive at the Kurumba housereef there is a big chance you see them but you have to be in front of the group, close to the guide or you will miss them.
The silvertip looks a lot like a grey reef shark but all its fins have been dipped in white paint so all fins have white tips. If a grey reef shark is a shark a 4 year old would draw if you asked him to draw a shark ( the classic shark shape), the silvertip is more of an athlete and also moves a bit different but you have to be a keen observer to see they move different. You sometimes see them on Rasdhoo Madivaru, mixed in between the grey reef sharks.
7 Zebra shark ( some call this shark the Leopard shark)
Very common in some parts of Asia, not so common in the Maldives. A good place to spot these is Gangehi Kandu. Gangehi Kandu is a long (2km) driftdive from the outside of the Ari Atoll to the resort Gangehi. Best to dive this is in de Westmonsoon with rising tide. At this time the current from the monsoon (West) flows in the same direction as the current from the tide (West) and you will have good current for a long drift dive. I have seen 3 zebra sharks in 1 dive but they are difficult to spot as they just lie somewhere on the side of the reef until they are startled, and then they bolt.
8 Guitar shark (actually a Guitar ray but sharks sounds cooler)
The guitar shark is quite rare in the Maldives but there are some locations where the chance to see one is more than 50%. In the Noonu Atoll they have a location where they are seen on a daily basis. There is one at Fish Head in the Ari Atoll but you have to be very lucky and there are 2 at the fishfactory very close to Male. This is a “divesite” where lots of fish waste is thrown in the sea and this attacks many fish you normally would not see. You will probably see all Murray eal species that you can see in the Maldives in 1 dive including snake eels, dozens of stingrays, a couple of guitar rays and there is even a chance to see a great hammerhead or a tiger shark. Be carefull not to handle any of the fish waste that is thrown in the sea as you don’t want the smell of fish all over you when there is a tiger shark around. Best time is between 16:30 and 17:00 as that is the time they trow the fish waste.
9 Great Hammerhead
You just have to be lucky to see one. I have seen 3 in 6000 dives, just random on a dive on the outside reef where is was cruising along the sandy bottom in search for stingrays (what they pray on). They can grow up to 6 meters and are very shy. There are only a few places in the world where you have a big chance to see them where they are attracted with bait and are used to divers.
10 Schooling hammerheads (Scalloped Hammerhead)
The place to see schooling hammerheads used to be Rasdhoo Madivaru. The trick was to swim away from the drop off into the blue so you just could not see the reef anymore and then wait until they show up. I made this dive maybe 50 times but the numbers of hammerheads we saw dropped and dropped to the point we only saw them 25% of the dives. The main thing we saw was blue water and luminescent plankton. Sometimes we saw some scouts but they were so deep (80+) that they were barely recognizable as hammerheads. A better place to dive for hammerheads nowadays is Foamulah or Fotteyo. At one dive at Fotteyo my divers saw dozens of shadows in the deep, also Fotteyo is like Rasdhoo a dropoff where you dive in the blue and hope you see something interesting. The problem with these dives is that if you come back to the reef you don’t have any bottom time left to make a descent dive so it is short (and hopefully) spectacular.
The last couple of years tigersharks are spotted on a daily basis at Foamulah. Foamulah is an island in the South of the Maldives wich has no shallow surrounding reefs, it is just an island in the middle of the ocean with drop offs all around. It is used as divesite for liveaboars who are traveling to the South of the Maldives (Addu) or moving back to the capital Male. Unfortunately anchoring is not possible so the liveaboards can make one dive and then have to move on. But since 2 years there are guesthouses on Fuamulah and they discovered the tigers are present every day (as long as they feed them every day).
So there is a very big chance you can see tiger sharks but they also have mola mola’s, tresher sharks and schooling hammerheads. We offer guesthouses and dive packages in Foamulah. It is not easy to get there but it is worth it.
Ofcourse there are other sharks in the Maldives like the Blue shark, the Oceanic Whitetips, Silky sharks, Bullsharks and a dozen or so others. Sometimes in the East monsoon there are even sightings of salties (saltwater crocodiles) as they get lost an float with the current from Sri Lanka or India. More of that in the next blog: dangerous sea animals of the Maldives.