Come for the whale sharks, stay for the people.

A volunteers perspective by Sameer Swarup

I remember chancing upon an advertisement for the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme on Facebook and having my interest piqued by the words “Whale Shark”. It was those two words that compelled me to commit to a research programme I had never heard of and to make a 2 week long trip to a country I had never been to. I wanted to swim with the biggest fish in the sea. I wanted to dive down into the ocean and be next to these gentle giants. I wanted to watch them swim out into the big blue, watching their gigantic tail slowly recede into the abyss.

Thus, I joined this programme with the hopes of making some whale shark friends who would make my stay in the Maldives an enjoyable and memorable one.  I got my wish of swimming and diving with whale sharks, being able to fully appreciate their calm and gentle nature underwater. I got to connect with each shark as an individual, identifying them by their spot patterns and learning about the stories behind their scars.

Diving down to meet Coco, the first whale shark we encountered

With that being said, my experience would not have been as memorable if I didn’t get to connect with each staff and volunteer member as an individual as well. You meet some incredible people on this programme; people who are passionate about environmental conservation and who want to go out and make a difference. You get to spend time diving and observing corals and other megafauna such as turtles and rays, learning about the threats each life form faces due to climate change and discussing potential solutions.

But perhaps most importantly, you get to bond and create amazing relationships with the people on this programme. You can tell right off the bat the people who run this programme are dedicated to ensuring each and every volunteer feels at home in Dhigurah. From having ‘family dinners’ at the guest house to playing music from Blue Planet II whilst on the dhoni looking for whale sharks to having night swims in the bioluminescent water, it is impossible for you not to fall in love with the people you meet and the experiences you have out on the ocean and to come away with a volunteer experience of a lifetime.

Sameer volunteered with us in July 2019. For more information on how you can get involved as a volunteer with MWSRP please click here