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Sharks in the Maldives

Maldivian climate is mostly the one typical of sub-equatorial islands. This climate is close to perfect for beachgoers: average annual temperature is +27 оС and it is not subject to daily or seasonal changes, due to the proximity of the ocean.

As long as the Maldives are situated in an area abounding in coral reefs, the undersea fauna is astoundingly diverse and beautiful. Maldivian coastal waters teem with marine wildlife: bright exotic fish, charmingly moving jellyfish, various clams, sea predators, and, of course, lovely corals. Needless to say, images of this underwater kingdom are imprinted in Maldivian divers’ memory for ever.

Coral reefs of Maldives Islands attract sea predators, namely sharks, of which there are around 26 species in the archipelago. However, this number is inaccurate, as many species of requiem sharks look almost identically, and even seasoned ichthyologists cannot distinguish between them at a first glance.

Tiger shark, hammerhead shark, and oceanic whitetip shark are the most frequent habitants in the Maldives. All these species are man-eaters. The highest threat is probably imposed by tiger sharks, as they often enter coastal zones. Meeting an oceanic whitetip shark is equally dangerous but much less probable, because these sharks prefer to keep away from shore. Hammerhead sharks behave less aggressively, and their attacks have been less numerous than those of oceanic whitetip sharks, let alone tiger sharks. In fact, the real threat is posed only by giant hammerhead species. Yet, you’d better avoid all of them.

Whale sharks arrive to eastern islands of the Maldives between April and November. These enormous sea beasts look rather appalling, but they are totally harmless to humans. It should be kept in mind that whale sharks, as well as many other shark species, receive protection from environmental groups. Therefore, harming any shark off Maldivian atolls is deemed to be illegal.

Fishing and hunting any sharks is forbidden off most Maldivian islands today. Such drastic measures were taken to preserve shark populations that suffer dramatic declines each year due to affected coastal ecology and the fear that drives people to kill or harm sharks. In addition, Asian people love treating themselves with shark fin soup, which doesn’t contribute to shark preservation either.

Abovementioned shark species are the largest of those infesting the Maldives. The rest of the predators are much smaller. In coral reefs, divers often come across reef sharks that rarely reach the length of 1m. Among bottom feeders, there are catsharks, houndsharks, and angel sharks in Maldivian coastal waters.

Today, sharks are one of exotic tourist attractions in the Maldives. Local entrepreneurs use every chance of earning money from those tourists who are curious enough to want to observe sea predators but not reckless enough to dive. For this purpose, local people bait sharks to bring them in closer to shore, or give glass bottom boat tours. Pure water and transparent bottom allow passengers to enjoy the undersea world without actual diving.  

To be fair, the Maldives are one of the safest resorts in the world (by the number of reported shark attacks), despite this huge species diversity. Only one nonfatal attack of a small shark has been confirmed by ISAF since 1580.

A statistics like that seems hard to believe, since the Maldives are a popular beach resort welcoming hundreds of thousands of tourists yearly. The reason for this might lie in the fact that coastal waters of coral reefs are too shallow for such big predators as tiger sharks. Or, maybe, Maldivian waves are too small for surfboarders and other extreme sport lovers, who are exposed to shark attacks more than anyone else.

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