SWIM WITH THE WORLD’S LARGEST FISH, THE WHALE SHARKS
Situated at the point where the Red Sea flows into the Indian Ocean, the small, stable country of Djibouti offers divers an incredibly diverse range of marine life. The relative absence of tourism is a large part of its appeal, ensuring the pristine dive sites remain un-spoilt.
Encounters with Whale Sharks
From mid-October to February plankton ‘blooms’ develop in an enclosed bay near Djibouti town called the Goubet al Kharab (the Devil's Cauldron). Although Whale Sharks can be seen throughout the year, encounters are especially common from October to February. These plankton-rich waters attract many of the great pelagic species into the area surrounding Djibouti. Recent research has recognized the particular importance of the bay in the development of juvenile Whale Sharks, which stay within the safe confines of Djibouti’s coastline. The Sheraton Djibouti hotel offered a dedicated Package experience over this period that is timed to maximize the likelihood of diving and snorkelling with these gentle giants.
Whales, Sharks and Dolphins
The rich feeding grounds that makeup Djibouti’s coastal waters attract a range of different species. Alongside Whale Sharks, divers can encounter Manta Rays, Beaked and Pilot Whales. Most species of Dolphin are represented in numbers off Djibouti’s coast and are often seen ‘running’ the bow wave of your boat. Where there are Dolphins there are invariably Sharks. Grey and Nurse Sharks are the most commonly encountered species, whilst both Tiger and Blue Sharks have occasionally been seen.
Spectacular Corals and Reefs of the Seven Brothers
Djibouti itself is a dry, mountainous country, shaped by volcanic activity. The fascinating, arid landscape contrasts sharply with the incredible biodiversity of the waters off Djibouti. There are over 200 recorded species of coral, some of which are endemic to the region. The lack of any rivers, combined with the volcanic base to many reefs, has prompted extremely healthy coral growth. Extensive reefs cover much of Djibouti’s coastline. Marine species that are regularly seen off Djibouti are largely similar to those found in the northern Red Sea. However, it is the sheer abundance of life that is so impressive, with dense shoals of fish being a feature of most dives. Large schools of Barracuda, Jacks and Snapper are often seen feeding off the reef and add excitement to many dives. During and outside of the main Whale shark season, the Sheraton Djibouti hotel partners offer the chance to dive these spectacular reefs between from September to June.
- Average Water Temp: 26° – 30° C
- Average Air Temp: 26° – 39° C
- Average Visibility: 5 - 20 m
- Good for: Whale sharks, hard corals, large schools of reef fish
- Suitable for beginners: Yes
The whale shark (Rhincodon Typus) is the biggest shark and the biggest fish. It is NOT a whale. It has a huge mouth which can be up to 4 feet (1.4 m) wide. Its mouth is at the very front of its head (not on the underside of the head like in most sharks). It has a wide, flat head, a rounded snout, small eyes, 5 very large gill slits, 2 dorsal fins (on its back) and 2 pectoral fins (on its sides). The spiracle (a vestigial first-gill slit used for breathing when the shark is resting on the sea floor) is located just behind the shark's eye. Its tail has a top fin much larger than the lower fin. The whale shark has distinctive light-yellow markings (random stripes and dots) on its very thick dark grey skin. Its skin is up to 4 inches (10 cm) thick. There are three prominent ridges running along each side of the shark's body. This enormous shark is a filter feeder and sieves enormous amounts of plankton to eat through its gills as it swims.
The whale shark is up to 46 feet (14 m), weighing up to 15 tons. The average size is 25 feet (7.6 m) long It is the largest fish in the world. Females are larger than males (like most sharks).
Whale sharks have about 3,000 very tiny teeth but they are of little use. Whale sharks are filter feeders who sieve their tiny food through their large gills.
Diet and Feeding Habits
The whale shark is a filter feeder that sieves small animals from the water. As it swims with its mouth open, it sucks masses of water filled with prey into its mouth and through spongy tissue between its 5 large gill arches. After closing its mouth, the shark uses gills rakers that filter the nourishment from the water. Anything that doesn't pass through the gills is eaten. Gill rakers are bristly structures (the thousands of bristles are about 4 inches or 10 cm long) in the shark's mouth that trap the small organisms which the shark then swallows. The water is expelled through the sharks 5 pairs of gill slits. The prey includes plankton, krill, small fish, and squid. The shark can process over 1500 gallons (6000 litres) of water each hour. Whale sharks are solitary creatures. Groups of whale sharks have only rarely been seen.
Whale sharks live in warm water (near the equator) both along the coast and in the open seas. They spend most of their time near the surface.
Distribution Whale sharks are found worldwide in the warm oceans from the equator to about ±30-40° latitude. They are not, however, found in the Mediterranean Sea.
Whale sharks are slow swimmers, going no more than 3 mph (5 kph). They swim by moving their entire bodies from side to side (not just their tails, like some other sharks do).
The Whale shark was long thought to be oviparous (an egg 14 inches (36 cm) long was found in the Gulf of Mexico in 1953; this would be the largest egg in the world). Recently, pregnant females have been found containing hundreds of pups, so, Whale sharks are viviparous, giving birth to live young. Newborns are over 2 feet (60 cm) long. Whale sharks are sexually mature at 30 years old. This is the age at which they are able to mate and reproduce.
Whale shark attacks
Whale sharks are harmless to people and usually indifferent to divers.
It has been estimated that whale sharks may live up to 100 - 150 years.