The Maldives is a small island nation in the central Indian
Ocean, some 400 miles southwest of the southern tip of India. The
Maldives is an independent Republic, with the capital on the
central island of Malé. The country is composed entirely of coral
atolls. On the atolls are some 1,200 sandy islands. All are small,
and most can be walked around in less than an hour. These really
are the picture postcard islands of your dreams, with swaying palm
trees, white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons. For more
information visit www.visitmaldives.com & www.unisurf.com
For many people the exquisite islands and coral reefs of the Maldives require little introduction. But it is not widely known that the Maldives also possess a particularly rich whale and dolphin fauna. Especially exciting is the great diversity of species found here. In the last year an astonishing 18 different species were seen. Spinner Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Risso's Dolphin and Short-finned Pilot Whale are all common. Spotted Dolphin, Striped Dolphin and Dwarf Sperm Whale are all regulars. Recent highlights have included superb views of Sperm Whale, Blue Whale and Bryde's Whale, and also Beaked Whale including Cuvier's, Blainville's/Dense-beaked and Longman's/Tropical. This last was long considered the rarest whale in the world, but is now known to occur regularly around the Maldives.
Maldives is also one of the very best places in the World to see Whale Shark. These magnificent creatures are the largest fish in the sea, growing to over 15m long. They are present year-round in the Maldives, but in certain months they concentrate at particular locations and swimming with them can be all but guaranteed.
The Maldive islands span the equator, stretching from about 7°N to ½°S, so the climate is tropical. From late January to April the weather is normally calm and sunny, with just the occasional shower. May can bring some squalls, but the weather is normally sunny with moderate winds. November is the intermonsoon period, again with calm weather. These are the best times to visit, which is why we have planned our trips for these times. During our boat-based trips the sea should be calm, which makes for ideal offshore whale-watching.
Temperatures do not vary much throughout the year. Daytime air temperatures typically reach 29-31°C during the day, dropping to about 25-27°C at night. Sea breezes make this quite comfortable. Sea temperatures in Feb-May and November average about 29°C, which makes for luxurious snorkelling!
The great attraction of whale and dolphin watching in the Maldives is the wonderful diversity of species that can be seen. On most trips 10-12 different species can be seen. And these are not just distant glimpses: many species bowride and can be seen in their entirety at close range. In addition, some species that are rarely seen elsewhere (for example the Dwarf Sperm Whale) are common here. Of course, nothing can be guaranteed with wild animals, but on every trip there is an excellent chance of seeing:
Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus
Risso's Dolphin Grampus griseus
Spotted Dolphin Stenella attenuata
Striped Dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba
Shortfin Pilot Whale Globicephala macrorhynchus
False Killer Whale Pseudorca crassidens
Dwarf Sperm Whale Kogia sima
Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris
You can also expect to see several of the following:
Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus
Bryde's Whale Balaenoptera edeni
Sperm Whale Physeter macrocephalus
Pygmy Killer Whale Feresa attenuata
Melon-headed Whale Peponocephala electra
Killer Whale Orcinus orca
Blainville's/Dense-beaked Whale Mesoplodon densirostris
Longman's/Tropical beaked Indopacetus pacificus
Fraser's Dolphin Lagenodelphis hosei
Rough-toothed Dolphin Steno bredanensis
On a typical 7-day trip there may be 40-60+ separate sightings of cetaceans. A sighting might be of one large whale or a school of over 200 dolphins. In total on each trip you can expect to see 1,500-2,500 cetaceans of 7-11 species.
Maldives is not renowned for its birdwatching, in part because there is not a great diversity of habitats. However, there is plenty of interest for the enthusiast. About 180 species have been recorded from the islands so far, but as there has been relatively little ornithological study, many more species (particularly northern migrants) undoubtedly await discovery. Our March trips takes place during the northern spring, when Eurasian migrants are still on the islands, or on their return journeys northward. There is a real possibility of getting a first record for the islands.
There are no known endemic species, but there are a few endemic subspecies, including:
White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus maldivus
Indian Pond-heron Ardeola grayii phillipsi
Striated Herons Butorides striatus didii & B. s. albidulus
Maldivian House Crow Corvus splendens maledivicus
There will be plenty of opportunity for seabird watching. Over 40 species of seabird have been recorded, including many rare tropical species, migrant Storm-petrels and others. Species likely to be seen during our trips include:
Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus
Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
White-tailed Tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel
Lesser Crested Tern Sterna bengalensis
Great Crested Tern Sterna bergii
Common Tern Sterna hirundo
Roseate Tern Sterna dougalli
Saunder's Little Tern Sterna saundersi
Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana
Bridled Tern Sterna anaethetus
Sooty Tern Sterna fuscata
Brown Noddy Anous stolidus
Lesser Noddy Anous tenuirostris
White Tern Gygis alba (Southern atolls only)
Other Marine Life
There will be some opportunities for snorkelling (and diving for qualified divers) on the coral reefs. The most spectacular feature of these reefs is the abundant fish life. Over 1000 species of fish have been recorded from the Maldives. You will be able to see over 200 species while snorkelling. Flying fish are abundant and will be spotted regularly as we travel outside the atolls. If you are lucky you may see manta rays, while Whale Sharks are all but guaranteed during May. Five species of turtle are known from the Maldives, and you have a chance of seeing three - Green and Hawksbill Turtles in the atolls, and Olive Ridleys out at sea.
Recommended Field Guides
Cetaceans: Whales, Dolphins and Seals: A Field Guide to the Marine Mammals of the World by Hadoram Shirihai, A & C Black Publishers Ltd, 2006
Birds: Grimmett R., C. Inskipp and T. Inskipp (1999) Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London. 384pp.
Birds: Kazmierczak K. and B. Van Perlo (2000) Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Pica Press. 336pp.
Fishes: Anderson R.C. (2005) Reef Fishes of the Maldives. Manta Marine, Malé. 136pp. (Available in Maldives)