This is the principal activity you will be involved in whilst on the project. You will spend many days out at sea trying to spot the inconspicuous shapes of the graceful whale shark. When a whale shark is spotted you will get into the water and take photos of them so that they can be identified when you get back to shore. Noticing new scars, injuries and distinguishing marks is also important in recording the health of the population so make sure you keep your eyes peeled! Monitoring the population of whale sharks means you have to record certain factors within their surrounding habitat too, so as well as gathering data on these gentle giants, you’ll test water conditions, the number of other boats and tourists out on the water, and if you’re lucky, sightings of other megafauna such as manta rays, dolphins and turtles!
As an active research project, the data gathered from the various whale shark and marine mega-fauna encounters on days out at sea need to be logged. As a volunteer, you will help to bring this information together and input it into our database. You will then use this information to identify the different whale sharks you have seen that day to try and calculate the area’s population size and whether they’ve been seen in the area before. Spotting a shark, swimming with, then identifying it is a really rewarding process, as getting to know individuals makes the experience all the more personal! Often volunteers want to ID the sharks we’ve seen before we’re even back on land – but fear not, you’ll get to know exactly what sharks you have spotted that day as you’ll upload the data back at the accommodation before you tuck into your evening meal.
During the first few evenings of your trip, you will receive enriching lectures and seminars regarding all things marine megafauna and more. You’ll learn about, of course, whale sharks, but also various species of turtle, manta rays, dolphins, along with learning how to identify particular species, how to carry out research and the importance of the research being done. This activity will be where you pick up a wide range of marine knowledge, and you can be sure to 'wow' loved ones back home with all of your marine facts!
Rubbish is a major problem in the Maldives (especially on residential islands), and although a beach sweep doesn’t sound much fun, it is actually very satisfying and makes a big difference to the marine life on the island. This activity is dependent on the council, but the project aims to hold a half-day beach sweep once a fortnight to try and combat the litter that chokes the idyllic coastlines of Dhigurah Island. The horrifying consequences of plastic pollution in our oceans is becoming more prominent in society, so this gives you the opportunity to make a personal contribution to this issue.
You will be given a t-shirt in your preferred size, which you will then print a whale shark-themed logo onto. All volunteers will wear the same and it makes for a great group photo! Have you ever completed fun arts and crafts activities on an island paradise? It’s very relaxing, something you can do while you get to know your fellow volunteers, and you’ll also get to keep the shirt to take home with you!
Depending on whether a beach clean takes place or not, volunteers will have between one and a half, or two full days off. This gives you the perfect opportunity to explore the surrounding island paradise or simply just relax on the beach with your fellow volunteers. The beach is also certainly the perfect place to spend some time with a good book! If you would like to do something more active with this time, then there are some different activities that you can get involved in including water sports such as kayaking or jet skiing or even scuba diving. It may even be possible to get a scuba diving qualification during your time here!
Please note itineraries are subject to change and what follows is simply a rough guideline. The day off per week is dependent on weekly activities and may not be on 'Day 7' as specified.
Day 1 - The Adventure Begins:
Today you will arrive into Malé's Ibrahim Nasir International Airport and then take a 30 minute domestic flight to Maamigili Island. Upon arrival at Maamigili you will then transfer via speedboat to Dhigurah Island, where you will be met by a project representative and where you will be based for the duration of your stay. On arrival you will settle in to your new accommodation and meet your fellow volunteers and the project facilitators.
Day 2-6 - Briefing & Project Work:
After breakfast and an initial briefing the project work begins! You will head out to sea in search of whale sharks and assist with the identification and research process. Please note that activities will depend on the day and also on the weather conditions out at sea. If you complete a beach sweep, from midday on day 6 (Friday) you have free time which allows you to have a rest, explore the local area or take part in a different activity. If a beach sweep is not completed then you have the whole day at your leisure!
Day 7- Free Time:
Today is your day off from project work and like on the Friday afternoon you will have the opportunity to relax or take part in additional activities. These can include water sports, excursions or even scuba diving. As these are additional activities you will need to pay for these and whilst some will not be too expensive scuba diving is more costly.
Day 8-13 - Project Work:
After enjoying your day off you will spend these next 6 days continuing with the project work. The whale shark focused research will remain a key part of the work during this period meaning more chances to swim with whale sharks!
Day 14 - Final Day:
Unfortunately, today is your final day. After your final goodbyes you will take the boat back to Maamigili Island before taking an internal flight back to Malé in order to catch your return flight home or continue with any onward travel plans you may have.
Dates, Availability & Price
To secure a place on this project a deposit of $245 is required at the time of booking, with the remaining balance due any time up to 60 days prior to your start date.
Select a duration below to see the project start dates. Please note that your place is not confirmed until you fill in the questionnaire to be sent to you by a member of our travel team.
Updates & Outcomes
This whale shark research programme is run in conjunction with a completely not-for-profit charity, dedicated to studying and conserving the world's largest fish. All donations from volunteering go towards work within the field, the running of the volunteer programme itself, and the very modest running costs of the charity. With the ethos to 'To conduct whale shark research and foster community-focused conservation initiatives throughout the Maldives', the programme reflects not only the ongoing commitment to just the Maldivian whale sharks but also to increasing the participation of the local communities in managing this magnificent species.
What's more, the project is very lucky to have the help of some world-renowned marine biologists, and with their help have been building up an ongoing demographic profile of the whale shark population through a non-invasive process called photo identification. Whale sharks are identified by their spot pattern, which is unique to every individual, and this clever software was originally made by NASA to help map out the stars!
Having documented (via ground-breaking satellite tagging and DNA analysis programmes) over 3000 encounters with whale sharks, the team have identified over 208 individuals, cataloguing them into a worldwide database, ultimately helping to assess and understand the wider importance of whale shark conservation.
If that’s not enough, the project has also contributed to the making of an app, where any whale shark encounters anywhere in the world can be documented to identify individuals. While this is a work in progress, this new app has the potential to identify the movements of individual whale sharks across the globe in the future, as well as gauge a more accurate idea of population numbers – something which is still a grey area due to the elusive nature of the whale shark species.
"It was truly incredible" - volunteer Juliet had an unforgettable experience on the Whale Shark Research Project. Read of her awe-inspiring encounters with whale sharks, eagle rays and a special Olive Ridley turtle in this guest blog!
One of our volunteers kindly wrote us a review of her journey to the Maldives to visit the Whale Sharks! Khristine flew all the way from Scotland over to Dhigurah Island to volunteer beneath the waves, and as you will see from her blog she had an amazing time! Read Khristine's story here!
- posted on 02/09/2019
- by Will Smith
Take a look at Will Smith's experience on the Whale Shark Research Project in July 2019
Is this trip for you?
Your time here will be spent living on a local island called Dhigurah – literally meaning ‘long island’ in Dhivehi. Accommodation is in a guest house and rooms are on a shared basis of two people. There are 4 rooms so the project can have up to 8 volunteers at any one time. Dhigurah will be your home and being a local island you can get involved with the community. There may be opportunities for you to go to a local house for some traditional food, go on a fishing trip or have a look at some local arts and crafts in the gift shops. There’s also a café and a dive centre on the island, so if you’re a keen diver and are wanting to go diving in the Maldives you can book onto some trips with them on your day off. Please be aware that this will not be included within the overall project price.
Three meals per day will be provided for you for the entirety of your time on the project. The food provided will be a mixture of traditional Maldivian cuisine – with delicious fish, curries, cassava and coconut - as well as western choices. All food, apart from packed lunches (which will be eaten on the Dhoni), will be served in a buffet style.
Please note that there is a NO ALCOHOL policy anywhere on the island, and you will not be able to purchase any alcohol during your time here. This is important to remember, and you will not be able to bring any alcohol with you to the Maldives either. Please be aware that penalties for this are extremely harsh - up to 2 years in prison - so it pays to be aware!
The project involves a lot of open ocean swimming, so you will have to be fit enough (and a strong enough swimmer) to cope with this! If you cannot swim or struggle to swim you should not join this project - we advise that you must be able to swim around 200 metres comfortably in order to join. You will also be skin diving with whale sharks on this project so you must be comfortable holding your breath underwater.
No specific skills or experience are required, only a positive attitude, an ability to work in a team, and a strong set of swimming skills!
The vaccinations required will depend on the medical history of each volunteer. We, therefore, recommend that you consult your GP regarding your own immunisation needs. In addition to this, we also recommend that you take a look at a website such as 'Fit for Travel' for more advice.
When is the best time to volunteer?
Whale sharks can be seen all year round where this project is based in the Maldives but the different monsoon seasons can have an effect.
The dry season (also known as the north-east monsoon) is from January to March and is often favoured by holidaymakers to the Maldives due to the beautiful weather. Because of this searching conditions are better which usually means there are more whale shark sightings. However, as this is such a popular time to visit the Maldives, flights can be more expensive.
Before and after the dry season (December and April) is the transition period between monsoons and this can bring strong winds and thunderstorms and so these months are not often favoured.
The wet season (also known as the south-west monsoon) is from May to November. Whilst it is called the wet season you can often enjoy 8 hours of sunshine a day with it raining for about an hour. During this period the whale sharks tend to move closer to the island where the project is based, which means that there are still a lot of whale shark encounters. An added bonus is that manta rays may also be seen in the lagoon during this time! As fewer tourists usually travel within these months whale shark encounters are more exclusive and flights generally tend to be cheaper too.
You will need to fly to the capital of the Maldives, Malé, and from here you will take a domestic flight to Maamigili Island. Upon arrival, you will be met by a member of staff and transferred via speedboat to Dhigurah Island, where the project is based. The return domestic flights from Malé to Maamigili Island cost $338 (though this is subject to change) and include the speedboat transfer.
As there is an additional domestic flight, please ensure your international flights to Malé arrive in either the morning or early afternoon.
If you would like help booking your international flights, please visit our flights page and fill out the form. A member of our team will get back in touch as soon as possible with a suitable quote.
A 30 day free visa is issued on arrival to all nationalities, provided that they:
- Possess a valid passport
- Have a valid onward flight ticket to leave the Maldives
- Have enough funds to cover expenses for the duration of the stay or a confirmation of accommodation reservations.
If you plan on staying for longer than thirty days it is not a problem as a tourist visa can be extended for up to a maximum of 90 days but you will have to apply to immigration before the expiration (30 day period) of the visa you are granted on arrival. This can only be applied for at the head office in the capital Malé during official working hours, meaning that you would have to travel back to Malé (but don’t forget you are transferred back there on your final day). A visa fee of 750 Rufiyaa (around $41) will be charged for the full extension of 90 days which includes your initial 30 day period.
Currency and Exchange Rates
The currency used the Maldives is the US dollar. 1 USD is approximately 1.25 EUR, GPB 1.29. For up-to-date exchange rates click here.
What's included in the price of the project?
- Three meals per day
- Daily return boat transfers to and from the project site
- All project activities
- Maldives Green Tax
- Donation to the project itself
What's not included?
- International and domestic flights
- Travel insurance
- Soft drinks and extra snacks
- Any extra activities undertaken on your days off (for example scuba diving which is approximately $102 per dive).