With its glorious white sand beaches, enchanting waterside villas, colorful coral reefs, and vibrant culture, the Maldives are a haven for sea lovers. Tourists are entranced by their bioluminescent waters, watersports activities, and underwater spas, but like anywhere in the world, the seas aren’t entirely risk-free.
The Maldives is brimming 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 no reported attacks in the Maldives in the last few decades. Still, most of the 70 shark attacks that do happen each year across the world are credited to the great white, bull, and leopard sharks, some of which have been spotted in the coastal waters off the Maldives.
Our guide details everything you need to look out for when exploring the Maldives’ underwater worlds and seven shark species you could expect to see. Let’s get into it.
Blacktip Reef Shark
Kicking off our list is the blacktip reef shark. They’re a very common sight in the Maldives archipelago and the Indian Ocean. Infant Blacktips are often spotted around popular five-star resorts since they tend to stay close to reefs and favor habitats in shallow water corals.
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 to humans 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, from which they get their name. Another discernable characteristic is their medium-large size, with the sharks typically reaching a length of over 5 feet.
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 their prey.
Seeing as attacks on humans are extremely rare, these medium-sized sharks aren’t particularly life-threatening. In fact, the biggest concern is their decline in population, due to the shark fin trade, and they’re now an endangered species. Nonetheless, they can become defensive when provoked, and are aggressive, carnivorous hunters, who even feed on other sharks.
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.
One of the largest aquatic creatures in the world, the whale shark is frequently spotted in the Maldives’ waters. They’re a lot friendlier than they look, and feed on plankton as well as tiny shrimp. As a matter of fact, they’re known to be quite sociable toward humans, with some allowing them to cling to their enormous fins, although we wouldn’t recommend interfering with any of the protected marine life in the Maldives.
These sharks use the archipelago 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 see from your floating villa. However, adult whale sharks are known to live much further away from the shore.
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 and they’re a common sight year-round.
Grey Reef Shark
Among the most common shark species in the Indo-Pacific, grey reef sharks love coral reefs. 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 with stronger currents like Rasdhoo Madivaru, Guraidhoo Corner, and the channels on the Maldives’ east side.
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.
A relatively sizeable tropical shark, the tiger shark is found all over the world and is the second biggest predatory shark, and a common sight in temperate and tropical waters.
Reaching an average length of roughly 16 feet (five meters), this shark is famous for the exquisite markings on its body, similar to tiger stripes, from which it gets its name. They’re 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.
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. They dwell in deep waters and swimmers don’t need to worry about happening upon a tiger shark in the shallows.
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, and have been spotted on occasion around the Maldives islands.
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, who can grow to a length of between four and five feet and are considered harmless to divers, which means you can safely admire them in close proximity.
There are a few guided diving tours that focus on finding these magnificent creatures, that can be easy to approach. Still, you don’t want to disturb them if you spot them resting on the sea bed. Resist the urge to touch a retired leopard shark, to not disrupt their sleeping patterns, and prevent them from becoming agitated.
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.
They’re largely nocturnal creatures, who hunt small fish and lobster using their heightened sense of smell, which means you have the best chance of spotting them in the evenings. Be that as it may, they have been reported to be quite social during the day, forming large sedentary 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.
Is it safe to swim in the Maldives?
Swimming in the crystal clear waters of the Maldives is one of the great appeals 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 guide.
Do reef sharks bite humans?
Reefs sharks can, on occasion, bite humans and 24 attacks have been recorded 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 lusted vacation destination, frequented by a-listers and affluent westerners, but the islands have a strong Muslim culture, 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 avoid public displays of affection in the streets and anything deemed contrary to Islam, like bibles and pornographic material, is not allowed in the country.