Every year, the tiny island of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean becomes a hub of excitement as locals and Blue Planet-inspired travelers prepare for one of the world’s most extraordinary wildlife experiences – the annual arrival of whale sharks, the world’s largest fish species.
These magnificent creatures are drawn to the island during the summer months, particularly in January and February, to feed on plankton and small fish with their colossal gaping mouths. Despite reaching lengths of up to 40 feet (12m) or more, the sharks are docile creatures and St Helena is one of the best places in the world to swim alongside them to observe their behaviour – an incredible experience not to be missed.
Experts and travelers alike are drawn to the island by this unique opportunity, and St Helena takes its responsibility towards these creatures very seriously. Whale shark interaction is strictly regulated on the island and is only offered by accredited local marine tour operators.
The waters around St Helena have been designated a Marine Protected Area and the island is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest destinations to discover the wonders of the sea. Divers and snorkellers can swim with whale sharks, explore historic wrecks and marvel at the many species under the sea, while those who prefer to keep their heads above water can still discover a myriad of species, with regular sightings of large pods of dolphins among the highlights to visitors.
Helena Bennett, Director of Tourism for St Helena, said: “St Helena is lucky to have some incredible marine wildlife experiences throughout the year, but the arrival of the first whale sharks is always a much-anticipated moment on the island. The chance to witness these creatures first-hand is a truly special experience and we look forward to welcoming visitors drawn by this opportunity.”
The first whale sharks typically arrive in St Helena from late November-December, and stay until April, peaking in January and February. Direct flights to St Helena during the summer season operate on Saturdays and Tuesdays from Johannesburg in South Africa.