Whales in the Maldives

Whales in Maldives (Whales Watching & Swimming)

One does not have to look far to spot the largest animal in the world. Whether it is the famous blue whale or the scarcely known Deraniyagala’s beaked whale, you are just one flight away from these stupendous marine mammals. Sighting whales in Maldives can be combined with a week-long vacation in this earthly paradise for a wholesome experience.

There are more than a thousand islands in The Maldives, ensuring you will never get bored even if you were to go on an extended holiday in this Asian gem. While 200 odd local islands invite you to experience Maldives’ history and culture, uncountable luxury resorts await tourists on their private isles. If you have never gone whale-watching before, get to know a little bit about these animals and the experience before you embark on your maiden journey.

What are Whales?

Whales are one of the largest mammals on Earth and are widely distributed in all of the oceans. These open ocean creatures can either be toothed or have beaks and baleen plates to filter-feed aquatic organisms. Whales spend their whole lives in the marine ecosystem, never surviving on land.

Beaching usually leads to their death, hence they are mostly found in deep waters where they can swim freely. The entire lifecycle of a whale, that is, being an infant close to the mother, feeding, growing into an adolescent and then a full adult, mating, giving birth to calves, suckling, growing old and dying, occurs at sea.

Whales breathe with the help of blowholes which are placed at the top of their head. Even though these aquatic creatures have an aquiline body suited for high-speed travel underwater, they do not breathe underwater as they lack gills. They must come up for oxygen. However, whales have the capability to hold their breath for as long as a couple of hours at a stretch!

Whale Species Found in The Maldives

The world over, there are about 90 different species of whales. In The Maldives, however, only 14 of these have some chance of being sighted. You can get a good look at some of these marine mammals on Maldives day tours that are specifically designed around whale watching. Keep an eye out for the following whale species in this Asian archipelago:

Blue Whale

The largest animal in the world, the blue whale boasts of a length that extends to 98 feet while it weighs 173 tonnes. When spotted underwater in the Maldives, this whale species appears blue in colour but is actually speckled greyish-blue. Females are larger than males. The blue whale must be watched at a distance of at least 100 yards away.

Minke Whale

Minke Whales in the Maldives

Also known as lesser rorqual, the minke whale is one of the smallest whales you will encounter in The Maldives, measuring 23 to 26 feet in length and weighing about 5 tons. This species of whale comes in either purple, black or gray in colour. The minke whale is capable of diving underwater for about 20 minutes.

Humpback Whale

Humpback Whales in the Maldives

The average adult humpback whale measures between 39 feet and 52 feet. This heavy weight baleen mammal can weigh up to 33 short tons. They have an interesting way of migration wherein they choose tropical or subtropical ocean waters during winters. This time often coincides with their season for breeding and birthing. Humpback whales can be easily identified by their peculiar hump and large size.

Sperm Whale

Alternatively called ‘cachalot’, the sperm whale is the largest toothed predator in the world! These whales can reach a maximum height of 68 feet, especially the bulls. Male sperm whales (or bulls) can sometimes be spotted on their own, but females and younger sperm whales live together. Sperm whales hold another record of having the largest brains on the planet.

Longman’s Beaked Whale

Known by other names such as Indo-Pacific beaked whale and tropical bottlenose whale, the Longman’s beaked whale is a difficult one to sight. They can be identified by their beaks, which are long for adult females and short for juveniles. In The Maldives, this whale can be about 20 feet in length with beaks that have dark marks at their tips. They can be either black or greyish in colour, with females having a brown head.

Melon-Headed Whale

Even though the melon-headed whale is officially a whale, it is also called many-toothed blackfish or electra dolphin. This whale has a body-type similar to that of a dolphin, with a conical head. Its sickle-shaped dorsal fin is a good identifier. Alternatively known as the little killer whale, they tend to travel in pods that can be as large as 500.

Deraniyagala’s Beaked Whale

There have been only a handful of sightings of the Deraniyagala’s beaked whale around the world, so the chances of coming across one in The Maldives is very slim. They often eat fish and squid found in the deep sea. Very little is known about the Deraniyagala’s beaked whale, owing to the limited sightings worldwide.

Bryde’s Whale

Bryde's Whales in Maldives

Bryde’s whales are large-sized whales which measure around 13 feet at birth and grow up to lengths of 50 feet. They take 8 to 11 years to mature and can weigh around 13 to 28 short tons. It breathes with the help of its twin blowholes and even has a splash guard at its front. The Bryde’s whale has no teeth but a couple of rows of baleen plates designed specifically for filter feeding.

Pygmy Sperm Whale

Pygmy Sperm Whale in Maldives

A tough one to sight in The Maldives, the pygmy sperm whale can attain a maximum height of 11 feet at adulthood. Weighing 400 kg, these marine mammals sport a light coloured underside, usually pinkish to creamy. Their backs generally reach a dark bluish grey shade while the sides can sometimes be a mix of the creamy hue. The pygmy sperm whale has wax in its head which helps it in sound modulation and focusing.

Sei Whale

Sei Whale in Maldives

Sighted mostly in the deep, sei whales are known to live up to 70 years. As adults, they can reach lengths of up to 64 feet and weigh as much as 31 short tons. The sei whale is an endangered species, and you will be lucky to spot one in The Maldives. They use filter feeding for food consumption, aided by their baleen plates.

Dwarf Sperm Whale

Aptly named, the dwarf sperm whale can measure as little as 6 feet – a rather small figure when compared to most other whales species. These are easy to identify, with a square-shaped head and a small jaw. The body of the dwarf sperm whale is gray in colour and they usually mature in 13 to 15 years. This marine mammal uses suction feeding to eat its prey.

Fin Whale

The fin whale is known by several other names such as razorback whale, finback whale, herring whale and common rorqual. With lengths that can go up to 90 feet, this species is the second-largest one in the world. Mostly sighted in pairs, these wails can dive into the depths of the ocean, to about 1,500 feet to aid their feeding process.

Blainville’s Beaked Whale

Sometimes called the dense-beaked whale, Blainville’s beaked whale. The females can weigh up to 2,200 pounds while newborn calves are about 60 pounds. Interestingly these whales can exist in small groups of up to 7 whales – very uncommon among other whale species. Blainville’s beaked whale is the deepest diver on record, with the capacity to reach depths of up to 1,400 metres.

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Also known as goose-beaked whale, this species holds the record for the longest dive of 222 minutes underwater. Cuvier’s beaked whale has a cigar-shaped body which is quite robust. Right at their birth, these whales weigh 500 kg, and grow to 3.5 tons. In many cases, their beaks fade to white as they age. Along with teeth, the males of this species have tusks.

Maldives Whale Watching

Whale Watching in the Maldives
Whale Watching in the Maldives (courtesy: dmitry-osipenko)

When it comes to whale watching, one often confuses it with whale shark spotting. When you book activities in Maldives, make sure it is not simply a whale shark excursion but an actual whale sighting dive. Whale sharks are basically fish with gills while whales are mammals that suckle their calves.

Luckily, The Maldives is considered to be one of the best destinations in the world for whale watching. So, even if you are on a Maldives honeymoon package, ensure you include a whale watching trip to make the most of your days in this island paradise.

One must be patient to sight any whale species as they are not as easy to spot as their smaller cousins (dolphins). While dolphins in Maldives are routinely spotted during morning and evening cruises in dhonis – traditional Maldivian wooden boats, whale watching is best done on liveaboards or chartered yachts.

Enjoy the experience of sailing until you finally get your binoculars or naked eyes on a whale. It may happen that your boat sails for many hours or even that your liveaboard spends several days without any sight of the gigantic aquatic mammals. To push your luck to the max, use these whale watching guidelines and tips:

The Best Spots for Maldives Whale Watching

The Best Spots for Maldives Whale Watching
The Best Spots for Maldives Whale Watching (courtesy: bryan-thompson)

If you will be designing your entire itinerary around whale watching, to the extent of booking hotels in The Maldives based on whale density in the atolls, you must first be aware of sighting possibilities and statistics. Generally, the best atolls for whale watching in The Maldives are  equally spread across the equator.

However, certain whale species are only found in a certain hemisphere. Book Maldives full day tours in the South for a chance to spot the melon-headed whale which is never found in the northern hemisphere. If you think you will be content watching whale sharks instead, head to Ari Atoll for the best glimpses of these filter-feeding fish.

The Best Times for Maldives Whale Watching

The Best Times for Maldives Whale Watching
The Best Times for Maldives Whale Watching (courtesy: silasbaisch)

Whale watching in The Maldives requires both luck and tact. Depending on the species you are aiming to spot, your strategy will change. For instance, if you are after the dwarf sperm whale, venture out on your safari boat when the seas are calm. Stormy seas are not conducive for either sailing or whale spotting.

The best time for whale watching in The Maldives coincides with the shoulder season for tourism, that is, September to early December and February to early May. The oceans are known to be relatively calm around this time, in contrast with the months of January, June, July and August, when the winds are wild.

If you are very particular about sighting hard-to-get whales, you might have to plan your Maldives holiday in an El Niño year. Whale species like the Bryde’s whale are only spotted when the oceans warm up during the El Niño effect.

Maldives Whale Watching Seasons

The best seasons to watch whales in The Maldives are winters and summers. Avoid the monsoon as visibility is at an all time low, making it even harder to spot a whale that you may have chanced into.

The best months are generally November to May, especially if you are targeting the blue whale – the largest of all whales and in fact all animals on the earth. This is when they migrate and are seen in pods in the Indian Ocean.

Fortunately, Maldives weather is a darling irrespective of the month you are visiting. If not the blue whale, you will certainly spot some other whale in the wet months of June to October. Humpback whales, for instance, are usually sighted around this time of the year.

Swimming with Whales in The Maldives

Swimming with Whales in The Maldives
Swimming with Whales in The Maldives (courtesy: dmitryosipenko)

Swimming or snorkelling with whales may sound exciting but remember that you need to be a strong swimmer to be able to keep up with the speed of these gigantic marine mammals. Even if it is a whale shark that you are planning to swim alongside, you might easily get tired trying to keep up with the pace of these nimble aquatic beings.

Unarguably one of the most fun activities to do in Maldives, swimming with whales requires a safari boat or a liveaboard to constantly be with you so you can go up to catch some breath (and grab some food and drink to relax from your strenuous time underwater). Snorkelling will additionally let you admire the plethora of colourful corals that The Maldives is so famous for.

Rather than snorkelling, a diving trip will prove to be more beneficial since whales prefer the depths of the ocean to the surface of the water unless they are breathing. It is important to have proper diving gear on, including a wetsuit that keeps you adequately warm in the cool sea.

The Maldives helps us when it comes to temperature as the temperate climate never lets it get too cold even underwater. The same cannot be said about the ocean depths though. It is always advisable to swim with a naturalist who can point out various whale species to you.

Your diving guide must additionally be able to help you navigate the ocean currents and help you find your way in the open ocean where whales usually are. The importance of being a fast swimmer cannot be highlighted enough as you might often have to get out of the way if not simply follow these enormously sized animals.

Whale Cruises in The Maldives

Whale Cruises in The Maldives
Whale Cruises in The Maldives (courtesy: ariane-frei)

Although not very close to Malé – capital city of The Maldives, whale watching safaris are conducted by select few luxury private island resorts and public islands where tourism has gained momentum. Whale cruises or whale shark sighting trips are best done when planktons bloom in the marine ecosphere as that is what whale sharks majorly eat.

The short period between September and October is the best time to watch the amazing whale shark but whales are a tad more difficult to sight. In the rare occasion that a whale shark swims up to you, it is best not to touch it.

If your curiosity gets the better of you, allow the whale shark to make the first move before gently touching it. Be sure to avoid chasing it or harassing it as that may trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response in the creature, and it may even harm you.

If your vacation is around February and March, pick your Maldives water villas in the South Ari Atoll as that is where most of the plankton-rich channels are – a treat for those whale sharks. As far as real whales go, you might have to make multiple trips to The Maldives to be able to sight even a single pod of pilot whales.

Maldives vacation packages are a lot more than just watching whales. Cheer your soul with a dolphin cruise, go on a walking tour in Malé – the world’s smallest capital or simply catch a movie under the stars on a sandbank.Apart from whales in Maldives, you can look forward to finding various corals and small marine animals, colourful fish, shoals and even manta rays! There are many Water Spot Activities to do in the Maldives. Get in touch with Samudra Maldives for a tropical holiday like never before.