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.