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The Republic of Maldives in the central Indian Ocean is a country made up entirely of coral atolls. The reefs offer world-class snorkeling, while the offshore waters are home to a great abundance and diversity of cetaceans.

Most abundant of all is the spinner dolphin, which feeds offshore at night and comes into the atolls to rest during the day, regularly using particular reef channels. Many resort islands offer short excursions (usually in the early morning or late afternoon) to watch the spinners as they pass through these channels.

It is also possible to join a multi-day cetacean-watching cruise on a live-aboard ‘safari’ boat, with air-conditioned cabins and excellent food. These trips offer the chance to see a wide range of tropical species (there are 22 species possible, with most trips observing between 7 and 12, depending on atolls visited and season).

Target species, peak times of year and locations:

Spinner dolphins are the commonest cetacean species in the Maldives, and are the main species targeted by resort islands during their short dolphin-watching excursions. These trips sometimes also see Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins inside the atolls, as well as pilot whales and other species outside the atolls.

In addition to these species, longer trips based on live-aboard safari boats can also encounter any of the species listed in the table below. Pantropical spotted dolphins are especially common offshore, while dwarf sperm whales are seen in particularly good numbers in calm conditions. Larger whales are not especially common, but blue whales are seen regularly as they migrate through the Maldives during November to May. In contrast, humpback whales are most commonly observed during June to October.

The Maldives atoll chain runs some 800km north to south. The differences between the north and south are mostly minor. For cetaceans the one exception to this is for the melon-headed whale, which is only found in abundance in the south.

The Maldives is under the influence of the monsoons, with strong winds likely in December-January and also during late May to August. The calmest times of year, and therefore the best times for cetacean-watching, are during the inter-monsoon periods of February to early May and September to early December. 

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Species

County/region

Platform (motorized boat, swim-with, aerial)

Peak time of year to observe

Likely to be observed on short day trips

 

 

 

Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Possible to view during longer live-aboard trips

 

 

 

Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)

Maldives

Boat

November to May

Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni)

Maldives

Boat

During El Nino years

Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Maldives

Boat

June to October

Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Killer whale (Orcinus orca)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

False killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuata)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra)

Southern Maldives

Boat

Year round

Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Spinner dolphin (Stenella longirostris)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Pantropical spotted dolphin (Stenella attenuata)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Fraser’s dolphin (Lagenodelphis hosei)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Rough-toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Longman’s beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

Deraniyagala’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotaula)

Maldives

Boat

Year round

 

Additional information about whale watching opportunities in Maldives can be found on the following websites:

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Regulations and guidelines

There are no national regulations or guidelines regarding marine mammal watching in the Maldives. However, some operators do follow guidelines from other countries or organizations (e.g. World Cetacean Alliance)

Research on whale watching in the Maldives

There has been no research on the impact of whale-watching in the Maldives. However, there has been research conducted on the distribution and seasonality of different whale and dolphin species in the Maldives, with several studies listed below. 

Anderson R.C. (2005) Observations of cetaceans in the Maldives, 1990-2002. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 7(2): 119-135.

Anderson R.C., A.Shaan and Z.Waheed (1999) Records of cetacean ‘strandings’ from the Maldives. Journal of South Asian Natural History 4(2): 187-202

Anderson R.C., T.A. Branch, A. Alagiyawadu, R. Baldwin and F. Marsac (2012) Seasonal distribution, movements and taxonomic status of blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) in the northern Indian Ocean. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 12: 203-218.

Anderson R.C., S.A. Sattar and M.S. Adam (2012) Cetaceans in the Maldives: a review. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 12: 219-225.

Ballance L.T., R.C.Anderson, R.L.Pitman, K.Stafford, A.Shaan, Z.Waheed and R.L.Brownell (2001) Cetacean sightings around the Republic of Maldives, April 1998. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 3(2): 213-218.

Clark R.A., C.M. Johnson, G. Johnson, R. Payne, I. Kerr, R.C. Anderson, S.A. Sattar, C.A.J. Godard and P.T. Madsen (2012) Cetacean sightings and acoustic detections in the offshore waters of the Maldives during the northeast monsoon seasons of 2003 and 2004. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management, 12(2): 227–234.

Dalebout M.L., C. Scott Baker, D.Steel, K.Thompson, K.M.Robertson, S.J.Chivers, W.F.Perrin, M. Goonatilake, R.C.Anderson, J.G.Mead, C.W.Potter, L. Thompson, D.Jupiter and Yamada, T. K. (2014). Resurrection of Mesoplodon hotaula Deraniyagala 1963: A new species of beaked whale in the tropical Indo-Pacific. Marine Mammal Science, 30(3): 1081-1108.

 

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