With its glorious white-sand beaches, enchanting waterside villas, colorful coral reefs, and vibrant Indian Ocean culture, the Maldives is a haven for sea lovers and sun seekers of all stripes. Folks who travel to this sun-splashed corner of the world can expect to spend a lot of time in the water, which is why many often ask: Are there sharks in the Maldives?
Truth is, the Maldives brims with tropical marine life, and the Indian Ocean around the Maldives is home to around 26 different species of shark. Fortunately, sharks don’t pose too much of a threat to humans, and there have been zero reported attacks in the Maldives in the last few decades.
But, there are still sharks here. In fact, some of the deadliest shark species of all swim between the atolls and channels of this paradise archipelago nation. They include the feared great white of Jaws fame, the quick-to-attack bull shark, and the speedy leopard shark. Let’s take a look at them one by one…
Blacktip reef shark (Carcharhinus melanopterus)
Kicking off our list is the blacktip reef shark. They’re a very common sight in the Maldives archipelago and throughout the Indian Ocean more generally. In fact, infant blacktips are often spotted around popular resorts and hotels, since they tend to stay close to shallow reefs and favor habitats in shallow water corals – the same thing us travelers like to snorkel in!
Even so, swimmers shouldn’t be too concerned, since they’re generally quite wary of humans. They have been known to become aggressive around food and attack out of fear on rare occasions, but they don’t pose much danger and have been responsible for only 11 unprovoked attacks globally since 1959.
These sharks feed on small fish and marine animals and can be easily identified by the distinct black tips on their fins (hence the name). Another discernable characteristic is their medium-large size, with the sharks typically reaching a length of just over five feet from tip to tail.
Hammerhead shark (Sphyrnidae)
Next up is the hammerhead shark. As their name implies, these soldiers of the sea are distinguished by their unique scalloped heads and rounded front edges, which are equipped with electrical receptors used to detect prey and obstacles in the sea.
Though they have been known to attack humans, these medium-sized sharks aren’t considered to be particularly life-threatening. Actually, the decline in hammerhead population numbers due to the shark fin trade is perhaps most alarming. They’re now even listed as an endangered species.
They’re found primarily in the Coral Triangle, comprising Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Phillippines, with the optimum place to see them in the Maldives being Rasdhoo Atoll. The best way to do this is by joining a guided shark tour, or a diving expedition at Hammerhead Point by Madivaru Corner. If you want to catch a glimpse of this infamous species, the ideal time to do so is early in the morning, at the break of dawn.
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
One of the largest aquatic creatures in the world, the whale shark is frequently spotted in the waters of the Maldives. They’re a lot friendlier than they look: These filter-feeding giants eat only plankton and tiny shrimp. As a matter of fact, they’re known to be quite sociable toward humans and have even been known to interact with divers.
These sharks use the atolls here as a nursery, which means that most of the whale sharks you’ll see are in their infancy. They typically measure about 19 feet and prefer shallow water habitats, which means there’s a good chance that you could even spot one when snorkeling or looking out to sea from your floating villa.
If snorkeling isn’t your thing, but you still want to see a whale shark in its natural habitat, you could always join one of the numerous whale shark tours available in the Maldives. The South Ari Atoll is the most popular place for these expeditions, since they’re a common sight there all year round.
Grey Reef Shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos)
Among the most common shark species in the Indo-Pacific, grey reef sharks love coral reefs close to the shore. They are often mistaken for the blacktip shark because of their similar habitats and appearance, but can be distinguished by the grey coloration of their dorsal fin, and sometimes on other fins, too.
Grey reef sharks are frequently spotted in areas of the Maldives that are known for having strong, nutrient-rich ocean currents. That includes Rasdhoo Madivaru, Guraidhoo Corner, and the channels on the east side of the islands.
Female grey reef sharks typically reach lengths of four to five feet, while males can exceed eight feet. Other recognizable characteristics include their blunt snouts, round eyes, and stout bodies. They can be sociable and move around in groups by day, but they’re solitary hunters by night.
Grey reef sharks are fairly curious, and often approach humans, so there’s a good chance you could run into one during a dive. They have been responsible for a number of attacks on humans, so you should avoid aggravating or stunning the creature if you do happen across one. Nevertheless, they generally only attack if threatened and an attack has never been recorded in the Maldives.
Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier)
A relatively sizable tropical shark, the tiger shark is found all over the world and is the second biggest predatory shark of all, next to the great white. They can be found as far north as Japan and right throughout the Indian Ocean and South Pacific. During the day, they tend to prowl deeper waters, entering reefs nearer the shore to hunt in the dark of night.
Reaching an average length of roughly 16 feet (five meters), this shark is famous for the exquisite markings on its body. They’re similar to tiger stripes, from which it gets its name. They’ve earned quite the reputation for being aggressive and eating just about anything they can sink their teeth into. Their large size and predatory behavior have led to human fatalities, but no attacks have been recorded in the Maldives – phew!
You can still safely marvel at these beautiful fish by swimming and diving among them with a qualified instructor in the Maldives. They’re usually spotted in southern Huvadhu and Kaafu, but the best place to see them for serious divers is definitely at the magical Fuvahmulah.
Leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata)
Also known as zebra sharks, the leopard shark’s most discernible feature is the unique patterns on its slender body, which range from spots to stripes. They aren’t particularly widespread and can only be found only in the Eastern Pacific and the north-central Indian Ocean. They have also been spotted, on occasion, around the Maldives atolls.
Infant leopard sharks have dark bodies with pale stripes, while adults can be distinguished by their pale bodies with dark spots. They’re generally quite docile sharks, growing to a length of between four and five feet. Oh, and the good news is that they’re widely considered to be harmless to divers.
There are a few guided diving tours that focus on finding these magnificent creatures in the Maldives and south Asia. Just don’t disturb them if you are lucky enough to spot them resting on the seabed. Resist the urge to touch a leopard shark, don’t disrupt their sleeping patterns, and be ready to retreat if things don’t go as planned.
Nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
Nurse sharks are one of the most vulnerable species in the Maldives and pose very little threat to humans. The juvenile variety of this fish is usually found at the bottom of shallow coral reefs, while adults typically seek shelter in deeper reefs and rocky crevices further out from the shoreline.
They’re largely nocturnal creatures, who hunt small fish and lobster using their heightened sense of smell. You have the best chance of spotting them in the evenings, while it’s still light enough to peer into the reefs. Be that as it may, they have been reported to be quite social during the day, too, forming large groups on the seafloor.
They can be easily distinguished by their flat bodies, broad heads, and light yellowish-brown to dark-brown color, as well as the two barbels between their nostrils. Another discerning characteristic is their suction feeders, which are capable of generating the strongest suction force of any aquatic vertebrae!
Nurse sharks can reach up to 14 feet in length and have very strong jaws, lined with thousands of tiny, serrated teeth. They could bite if stepped on or bothered by divers who assume they’re asleep but are largely considered harmless due to their poor eyesight. Don’t be alarmed if you come across one while snorkeling but be sure not to disturb populations.
Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)
Yes, there’s a chance you might be swimming in the same seas as the formidable great white – the very same marine monster that forged its reputation on the folks of Amity Island in Spielberg’s Hollywood hit Jaws. That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s extremely unlikely that you will be sharing the same waters with these beasts.
The reason? Though great whites travel huge distances on their hunts, and have even been known to cross from continent to continent, they mostly prefer cooler water that sit between 12-24 degrees C. That’s a cut below what the H2O is in the Maldives. Don’t believe us? Just dip your toe in the water outside your overwater bungalow. It’s as warm as a bath.
One thing’s for sure – you can’t miss a great white. Some of the largest specimens of these bad boys ever recorded have measured a whopping six meters from end to end, weighing in at little under a ton in total. The females of the species tend to be larger than the males. All of them are highly aggressive by nature and pose a serious threat to humans.
Silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis)
The oddly named silky shark gets its moniker from the smooth finish of its skin, which is colored a glimmering, reflective hue of light silver all the way down, with lighter patches dashing across the underbelly. A moderately sized species, they typically hit around 2.5 meters from tip to tail. Talking of the tail – that’s how you’ll spot them first, due to a crescent-shaped back fin that stretches out up to 50 meters from the body.
Known to be fast swimmers and dedicated hunters, silky sharks usually pursue larger prey out in the open ocean. However, juvenile sharks and babies are limited to enclosed reef habitats, which is how they’re usually spotted throughout the atolls of the Maldives.
Silky sharks are now listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. However, they still have a vast range that includes the South Pacific as far as New Zealand and Fiji, the coast of West Africa, and the whole of Central America.
Are there sharks in the Malidives? Our conclusion
Yes, there are at least 26 known shark species that reside in the waters around the atolls of the Maldives. The bad news is that number includes some of the most dangerous sharks on the planet, from the deadly tiger shark to the deadly great white. The good news is that there’s not been a single recorded shark attack in the region in the last few decades. Plus, the deadliest of all the sharks listed above – the great white – isn’t native to the Maldives, preferring cooler waters to the north and south.
Is it safe to swim in the Maldives?
Swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the Maldives is one of the great draws of this luxurious travel destination, but, as with any open water, precautions should be taken. The shallow protected bays where most waterside villas and resorts make their base have little to no currents and marine life is varied but not usually dangerous. You can walk on the seabed for 20 meters and visibility is perfect, but deeper water comes with extra dangers. Never swim far offshore on your own and only snorkel and dive with a qualified guide.
Do reef sharks bite humans?
Reefs sharks can, on occasion, bite humans. Something like 24 attacks have happened since records began. Reef sharks are known to be curious, and sometimes aggressive around food, attacking if they feel under threat. However, of all 24 global attacks, no fatalities have been recorded and reef sharks are not known to kill. A reef shark has never bitten a human in the Maldives.
What should you avoid in the Maldives?
The Maldives might be a major vacation destination, frequented by A-listers and affluent westerners, but the islands have strong customs and local values and religious customs should always be respected. Drinking alcohol is limited to resort islands and importing alcohol is prohibited. Wearing bikinis is also limited to resorts and boats and considered indecent elsewhere. You should also avoid public displays of affection in the streets.