Did you know that you can snorkel with whale shark on Koh Tao? Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea is one of the most ultimate snorkeling bucket-list experiences and Thailand is the destination where sightings are almost guaranteed. Learn more about these gentle giants, read when and where to see them!
Table of Contents
Where to see whale shark on Koh Tao
The tiny island of Koh Tao is known as an underwater paradise featuring rich coral gardens and interesting marine life. There are several beaches around the diverse coastline where you can snorkel and the area offers various dive sites that are accessible by boat. If it comes to whale sharks, they are regularly spotted at specific spots where they gather to feed on fresh plankton that is delivered by underwater currents.
The best places to see whale shark on Koh Tao:
- Chumphon Pinnacle
- Sail Rock
- South West Pinnacle
- White Rock
- Shark Island
The first 4 spots are mainly for divers. If you don’t dive just want to do snorkeling with whale shark, it is also possible. Most tour operators accept also snorkelers joining to boat trips. Whale sharks often swim close to the surface so you will have a great chance to spot them! Due to its proximity to the shore and easy accessibility, we think that Shark Island is the best place for snorkeling with whale shark on Koh Tao!
Tip: read our Koh Tao best snorkel spots to know where you can see turtles and reef sharks! Should you look for the best corals and marine life, see our snorkeling in Thailand guide and learn to Top 10 spots!
Best time to see whale shark on Koh Tao
Although diving and snorkeling is great whole year-round, the best time to see whale shark on Koh Tao is between March and June. This period is referred as ‘ whale shark season’ with the highest chance of sightings! Besides this, these gentle giants are also present around the island between October and December.
Snorkeling with whale shark on Koh Tao at Shark Island
During our Koh Tao snorkeling trip, we didn’t have time to go for a whole day boat tour but luckily we were still lucky enough to swim with a whale shark on Koh Tao at Shark Island. Although whale sharks sightings are never guaranteed, we heard from local divers that they are regularly spotted at this point so we decided to check it out.
Tip: if you don’t know where to stay on Koh Tao, check out the Sai Daeng Resort that has a perfect location! Amazing view, privacy and direct access to the best snorkel spots! The Sai Daeng Beach was private for a while and accessible only for the resort’s guests, but now it is open for everybody. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, still can access the beach and spend a nice beach here. There is parking available, and also a restaurant with bar.
The Shark Island is not only the best place for snorkeling with whale shark on Koh Tao but features a vibrant coral reef too. We saw the whale shark on the left side of the island where the water is deeper. When the visibility is good, you have good chance to spot her/him from the surface if it’s around. Whale sharks can dive to chilly waters hundreds of meters deep but they need to return to the surface to warm up, so they enjoy spending time close to the surface. The right side of Shark Island has a shallow coral reef. It is perfect for snorkeling with turtles and blue spotted rays around.
How to get to Shark Island
Shark Island is just 800 meters far from Sai Daeng Beach. To get to the island, you can rent a kayak or a long-tail boat. Renting services are available at the beach. With a kayak, you can get to the island in about 10-15 mins, rental costs approx 200 baht per hour. Pay attention to boat traffic, and make sure you have a rope to secure your kayak to the rocks when you go swimming.
Tip: Always check the weather before heading to Shark Island! If the forecast predicts bad weather, or you see dark clouds approaching from the direction of Koh Phangan (you see that island from the Sai Daeng beach), better to stay on the shore. Don’t forget, it’s tropical climate, conditions can change in seconds, storms bring heavy rain and very strong wind! Visit Shark Island only on sunny days by calm water!
Where to see whale sharks in Thailand
Whale shark sightings can occur just about anywhere in the world oceans, but these gentle giants are still rare animals. Thailand is famous for regular sightings and a perfect place for diving or snorkeling with whale shark. The number of whale sharks in Thailand was decreasing slightly from 1998, but it seems these gentle giants returned and the last few seasons have been pretty good.
Best places to see whale shark in Thailand:
- Richelieu Rock in the Andaman Sea
- Hin Daeng (South of the Phi Phi Islands)
- Koh Tao Chumphon Pinnacle
- Phuket dive sites such as Shark Point and Koh Doc Mai
The official Thailand whale shark season runs from February/March till April. According to dive operators, the highest chance to see them is at Richelieu Rock -which is on the schedule of most Similan Islands trips- and around Koh Tao. Besides Thailand, great places to see whale sharks are the Maldives, along the coastlines of Madagascar, Mozambique, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia also Utila in Mexico, Puerto Rica. They also migrate in Australian waters off Queensland, northern Western Australia, and the Northern Territory.
Are whale sharks dangerous?
Although whale sharks might seem to be scary at first sight because of their size but are completely harmless to humans. Diving and snorkeling with whale shark are completely safe! The largest confirmed individual measured 12.65 meters (41.50 ft) in length. However, there have been unconfirmed reports of 20 meters (65.6 ft) long ones!
To explain a bit better, let’s see what whale sharks eat and what they eat so you won’t be afraid if you will spot a whale shark in Thailand or any other places around the world. Despite their massive body size, they eat plankton and small fish that they filter from the water. Moreover, they also feed on clouds of eggs during mass spawning of fish and corals. Their mouth can be as big as 1.5 m wide and contains 3000 tiny teeth.
Whale sharks have a pattern of white spots, on a dark grey background plus white underbelly. The pattern is unique to each – makes easier for scientists monitoring them. Whale sharks are considered vulnerable by ICUN. Despite conservation programs, unfortunately, there are still areas where unregulated fishing/hunting of whale sharks occurs. They are hunted for liver oil, cartilage, fins which are used in shark fin soup.