• Welcome to
    Whale Shark Research

    The Maldives

    © MWSRP

  • © Gregor Kervina
  • © Melody Sky
  • © Gregor Kervina
  • © TME Dhigurah

Whale Shark Research

2  & 4 weeks / Contact us for prices
  • About

    Are you dreaming of the picture-perfect Maldives and the chance to conduct research and swim with whale sharks? Your dreams have come true! This amazing research project is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to be involved with researching and conserving the largest fish in our ocean: the whale shark.

    At the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) you will be a vital part of the crew and have a hand in every aspect of the project, from measuring sharks in the water to taking identification photographs and helping to record the data collected. The project is very fortunate to be in an area like nowhere else, where whale sharks appear year-round – you might even recognise some of them after some time in the water! You will also be invited to join in community outreach efforts and spend time talking to locals, learning from their experiences and getting to know the fascinating and diverse nation. If you want to experience the exotic Maldives, jump into the water with whale sharks and be part of a successful research project that publishes work and collaborates with world-renowned marine biologists, then this is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for you!

    • Conservation
      Global estimations of whale shark numbers vary, but nearly all of them – from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – consider the sharks to be endangered. This makes the work of MWSRP and organisations like it even more important. The IUCN has warned that the global whale shark population could decrease by as much as 50 percent in the next century if measures aren’t taken to protect them.
    • MWSRP Research
      The MWSRP is very lucky to have the help of some world-renowned marine biologists, and with their help the MWSRP has been building an ongoing demographic profile of the whale shark population through a non-invasive process called photo identification. Having documented over 6,200 encounters with whale sharks, the team has identified 370 individuals at the time of writing. They’ve also been able to make some interesting observations:
      Firstly, all of the sharks within the Maldives appear to be adolescent (that is to say of a pre-reproductive age) and they are almost all male. Only about 10 percent of the whale sharks that MSWRP have encountered in South Ari Atoll are female, though the reasons for such a gender imbalance are unclear.
      Secondly, the number of sightings compared to the number of identified sharks tells MSWRP that the same sharks are repeatedly coming back to the reef. It isn’t clear why the area is so important to them. They rarely feed at the surface, so MSWRP suspect that they’re feeding at-depth in cold water and then “basking” in the warm surface waters to regulate their body temperatures. MSWRP are using a variety of non-invasive research techniques to help us test this hypothesis.
  • Activities

    • Conducting surveys for whale sharks
    • Swimming underneath sharks to identify their sex
    • Identifying and trying to measure whale sharks
    • Recording other species including turtles, mantas and dolphins
    • Doing presentations to local school groups
    • Participating in beach sweeps aimed at removing rubbish
    • Collecting data for presentation to policy and decision makers
    • Entering data to contribute to MWSRP’s Big Fish Network portal
    • Beach clean-up
    Activities available at additional costs:
    • Scuba diving
    • Access to final dive sections for PADI Open Water Course
    • Water sports
    • Snorkelling excursions
  • Location

    We live on an island in the Maldives called Dhigurah, in the atoll of South Ari (also known as Alif Daal Atoll), located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the airport and the capital, Malé. The name literally means “long island” in Divehi. The island is about 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) long, but only 250 metres (820 feet) wide. Dhigurah has a population of about 600 with most of the population working as fishermen, woodworkers and boat builders. There are two schools, a kindergarten, a hospital, several shops and an information center. In the last few years, there have been several developments on the island, though the village covers only about 500 metres (1,640 feet). The remaining 2.5 kilometre (1.6 miles) is made up of tropical forest. You will find the beach on both sides of the island, making it possible to admire the sunrise on one side of the island before and the sunset on the other.
  • Facilities

    Accommodations are in a guesthouse with two people sharing each room. There are four rooms, allowing for eight people to volunteer at a time. All rooms are equipped with wardrobes, a desk, mini-fridges (consumption from which is at your own expense), air conditioning, hot- and cold-water showers and western-style toilets. There is also a small, walled outdoor drying area at the back of the building for drying wet clothes.

    • Laundry

      Laundry services are provided by the guesthouse, which charges a few dollars per wash. You are also welcome to wash your clothes yourself.

    • Food & Meals

      The restaurant at the guesthouse, TME, will provide us with most of our meals and it is delicious! Three meals are provided daily. Breakfast and dinner are served buffet-style at the guesthouse while lunches are packed meals that you can bring with you on the boat. On off-days, lunches are served buffet-style at the guesthouse. Meals are planned with the goal of exposing participants to an array of local dishes. The local food can be quite spicy, but non-spicy alternatives will be made available. Meals can be catered for vegetarians and others with dietary requirements, with advanced notice. Soft drinks and still and spring water can be bought on-site or from local stores (with better selection).

    • Internet & Phone Reception

      Cell phone reception is available. Check with your service provider for costs or purchase a local SIM card at the airport.

      Wi-Fi is available at the guesthouse, but the connection is not suitable for high-volume use, such as what would be required to stream movies.

    • Credit Cards & Cash

      It is possible to pay with credit and debit cards (Visa and Mastercard only, not American Express) at the guesthouse and at the diving centre. Prepaid cards cannot be used. Small cafés and gift shops will only accept cash. Please make sure to bring enough USD (in small bills, 10s and 20s) for your entire stay, as there are no ATMs on Dhigurah.

    • Shops

      There is a café, gift shop and a dive centre. If you’re a keen diver, you can book some trips with the dive centre on your days off.

  • Travel info

    This page will guide you on how to book your flights, how transportation to and from MWSRP works and which vaccinations are required for your trip.

    • Flight Itinerary

      Flights booked to MLE should arrive no later than 2 p.m. on Sundays, so that you have time for your domestic flight and the boat ride to Dhigurah.
      Your return flight should be booked with a departure from MLE no earlier than 11 a.m. on a Saturday.

    • Airport Transfer

      Transportation from the airport will be arranged by MWSRP. The transfer to and from MWSRP takes about 2 hours. You will need to take a domestic flight from Malé to the island of Maamigili.
      From there, a 30-minute boat ride will take you to Dhigurah. On the trip you’ll get your first glimpse at the different atolls and corals. You might even see a manta ray from the boat!
      The transfer from the airport is not included in your project fee and costs 2300 DKK / 340 USD. The fee covers your return domestic flight from Maamigili to MLE, your boat ride and green taxes.

    • Vaccinations

      We recommend you consult with your doctor to ensure you have the appropriate vaccinations before you trip. We recommend you get a vaccination for yellow fever. The project is not in a malaria risk zone, but since mosquitos are present, it’s important that you use mosquito spray.

    • Visa

      People from all countries will automatically get a tourist visa valid for up to 30 days upon arrival in the Maldives. It’s important that you read and understand the arrival guidelines that are emailed to you after your booking confirmation.

    • Travel insurance

      It is mandatory that you have valid travel insurance for your entire trip. The insurance will cover all costs involved with any kind of an emergency or incident, i.e. an air rescue, hospital or medical costs and flights. Please contact your local travel insurance agent, otherwise we can recommend the travel insurer World Nomads: https://www.worldnomads.com/

  • FAQ

    • Who joins the MWSRP as a volunteer researcher?

      Anyone over the age of 18 with a passion for conservation and a willingness to roll up their sleeves and do something. Many volunteers are over their “nine-to-five” and want to do something more with their time-off than just sit on a beach. Doctors, lawyers, IT consultants and gap-year students have all come out with us, each bringing their skills and ideas to the programme. Our volunteer groups are often an eclectic mix of ages and nationalities – once the project had five volunteers from five different countries who ranged in age from 19 to 69!

    • Is it a big group of volunteers?

      Absolutely not. Should you decide to come out with us, stand by to be busy! We have a maximum of 8 spaces available and often less than that, depending on the season. If you’re selected to join us, you’ll become a part of the research team. From there, it’s up to you. We need help to get all we do done in the time we have to do it, so we have a minimum work requirement we need completed, but if you are willing to put more time and effort in then you’ll get more out of the trip.

    • Do I have to do a test to join you?

      We do have an application process and an application form but don’t stress! This has some basic questions on competencies and qualifications, as well as some that outline your aims for the trip and what you feel you can contribute. It is a completely non-discriminatory enquiry that only comes into use during periods in which we have high-interest in spaces. We have very limited space, so at times we may select the person to join us who has the skills or competencies that best fit our needs for the time. If it’s not you then, please feel free to check for another time or duration that you can join us.

    • Do I need to be able to swim like a fish to join you?!

      So long as you are comfortable and safe in water too deep to stand in, we can work on building your competence in snorkelling and shallow tuck (duck) diving. These skills will enable you to keep up with the sharks and to help us in our research.

    • I have a disability that affects my mobility, can I still come out?

      It should be noted that because of the nature of the animal we study, we do spend a lot of time at and in the sea. This involves rapid water entries, a lot of swimming with equipment and climbing ladders back onto boats. Still, there are many aspects to this work, and not all of them are as physical. Drop us an email if you’re still interested in joining us. We’d love to find a way for you to help us in a way that fits with your level of mobility.

    • Where do we stay and operate from?

      We live on an island in the Maldives called Dhigurah. The name literally means “long island” in Divehi. Accommodations are in a guesthouse with two people sharing each room. There are four rooms, allowing for eight people to volunteer at a time. Dhigurah will be your home during your stay, giving you a chance to get involved with the community. There may be opportunities for you to visit with locals to try traditional cooking, to look at arts and crafts at local gift shops or to go on a fishing trip. There’s also a café and a dive centre. If you’re a keen diver you can book trips with the dive centre on your days off.

    • What do I do on a day off?

      Anything you’d like! If you’re a keen diver, you can go on trips with the local dive centre, Island Divers. The guesthouse, TME, also offers excursions including water sports, fishing and snorkelling. There are gift shops on the island and you’re free to spend your time simply relaxing on the beach with a book. Please note: The cost of additional excursions or diving is not included in your project fee.

    • Will I get a qualification from this trip?

      We do not offer an official accreditation for volunteering with us. You may be able to get a diving qualification – you have 1 day off per week, so if you wanted to do the final dive sections of a PADI Open Water Course you may have time – but you will have to pay for and sort that out yourself with the dive centre on the resort. Like any volunteer programme, what it lacks in official qualifications it makes up for on resumes by showing that you’re willing to do something rather than sit around and that you’re willing to try new experiences and learn new skills.

  • Reviews

    “I joined the MWSRP for two weeks without realizing how hard it might be for a city kid to help out with the program but I’m still so glad I went anyway. Being in the Maldives for two weeks was an eye opener - I got to meet people who were very passionate about marine biology and conservation (both staff and volunteers alike) and got to help first hand with the data collection. The staff at the MWSRP were welcoming to us volunteers and I learnt a lot more about the marine ecosystem in the Maldives, and how tourists can get to experience the beauty of the ocean while helping conservation in one way or another. Whale sharks are beautiful creatures, and I’m glad I got to experience encounters up close - it was an intimidating but unforgettable experience. I’d say that whoever wants to volunteer with the MWSRP should come with an open mind and heart, and you’ll definitely be able to play a part in supporting this program and making a difference, while getting to meet whale sharks. Thanks for the experience MWSRP! It was truly unforgettable.”
    – SuYee Tong

    “Being a wildlife fanatic, I came to the Maldives with a sheer desire to see whale sharks. Had I known what the following month would bring while waiting in the airport I probably would have stood there with an uncontrollable grin on my face. I also would have put on flip-flops instead of shoes. The MWSRP does everything with humble and respectful approach. By reaching out to local communities and being ambitious with day-to-day operations as well as future projects, there is a strong mentality among staff members that immediately affects you as a volunteer. It makes you eager to do work. Sweeping the reef for sharks and swimming with them proved itself to be an addicting cocktail for me. Not only are you in beautiful surroundings but getting in the water with a shark just never gets old. It makes the day every time. I have learned a lot about whale sharks and a great deal of other things too but that is something one will have to experience for oneself. Volunteering is really what you choose to make of it in the sense that you have the opportunity to make the trip unforgettable. It takes effort, but the sharks will do their part for sure.
    Jacob Salmonsen

    “My time in Maldives was incredible, and the programme was all I could have hoped for and more. Personally, I love being out at sea and this was great as we spent most of the day out at the reef looking for sharks. It was amazing to have such close and frequent encounters with whale sharks. You can only truly comprehend how big they are when you are right next to them in the water. On average we would see 3 sharks a day but some days we could end up seeing 4 sharks in 30 minutes! Whilst I was there I also got to help out at a school on an island called Fenfushee. This was nice as I was able to teach some of the children to swim and also interact with the local community. I was lucky enough to work with such a nice team who are passionate about the research and are happy to share their knowledge with you. This definitely has to be one of the best experiences I have ever done!” 
    – Jaymin Shah

    “It was such a great and wonderful time with the team, with you and you do such an outstanding work! Thank you so much that I could participate, it made me so happy! I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it´s not some place you can look for, because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment when you are part of something, and if you find that moment… it lasts forever…” 
    Beate Baier

    “Hi everyone! I’m Pauline from Switzerland! Last winter I went to the Maldives to spent 2 extraordinary weeks in one of the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to… As a biologist student, I wanted to “go on the field” instead of sitting in class all day… well, I was served: spotting and swimming next to these giant sharks will definitely remain one of the best memories of my journey! We also had the chance to see mantas, dolphins, turtles ... almost every day. If you are an animal lover, this is definitely a great project to get involved in. Apart from the wildlife side, I also had great times with my friends and people I met there… Maldivian people are really nice and their food too! Big thanks to my friends and the MWSRP staff for making this trip so unforgettable :)”
    Pauline Berra

    “If you ever thought of doing something different, are interested in the protection of marine life and don’t mind working while you holiday then volunteering with this programme will bring rewards you usually only get to dream of. It’s not really work though; it’s an experience that you’ll never forget in one of the most beautiful places in the world. It humbles you and makes you realise that life is fragile and beautiful, I cannot agree more with that Globetrekker; “Everyone should swim with a whale shark once in their lifetime!”
    Janet Buckly

  • Prices & dates

    You can join this project for 2 or 4 weeks. Please contact us for prices and availability.

Why you'll love it

  • You get to take part in an important, scientifically approved research project on whale sharks

  • You are welcomed by the amazing staff and you get to meet and work with the local community

  • The accommodation is very nice and comfortable, and the meals are delicious

  • The Maldives has some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and crystal-clear water – you will love it!

  • The Maldives are located almost on the equator, which means nice and warm temperatures throughout the year!

  • The whale sharks are present throughout the year

  • You get to swim with Whale Sharks, identify them and do data collection

  • You will help clean the beaches with “beach clean-ups”. The wildlife & environment will thank you for that - and it feels great!

  • You will enjoy this experience with like-minded people from all over the world


We work with volunteer projects that offer meaningful learning experiences and the space to experience the remarkable wildlife you’ll be supporting. Most projects only take between 10 and 20 volunteers, so the earlier we start planning your trip, the better. The best time to start making arrangements is six to eight months before your planned departure date – especially if you want to volunteer during peak seasons, including around school holidays.

More amazing projects & courses

  • Big Five & Wildlife Research

    Big Five & Wildlife Research

    Greater Kruger, South Africa

    Join the research team in the Greater Kruger Area, and assist the expert field guides and research team in various tasks contributing to wildlife research and conservation.

  • Wildlife Photography & Conservation

    Wildlife Photography & Conservation

    Greater Kruger, South Africa

    This 4-week programme will teach you how to take “National Geographic” quality photos while assisting with wildlife research next to Kruger National Park in South Africa.

  • Big Cat & Wildlife Research

    Big Cat & Wildlife Research

    Maasai Mara, Kenya

    At this exciting project, you will be actively involved in wildlife research by assisting wildlife researchers and scientists in the Mara Naboisha Conservancy, which borders the Masai Mara National Reserve.

  • Modisa Wildlife Project

    Modisa Wildlife Project


    Modisa Wildlife Project was founded in 2010 by Mikkel Legarth, from Denmark, and Valentin Gruener, from Germany.

  • Kariega Conservation Experience

    Kariega Conservation Experience

    Eastern Cape, South Africa

    Make a real difference, grow your skills in conservation and have the experience of a lifetime!

  • Shamwari Conservation Experience

    Shamwari Conservation Experience

    Eastern Cape, South Africa

    Get behind the scenes at the world-renowned Shamwari Private Game Reserve – a 23,000-hectare Big Five reserve, featured in documentaries on Nat Geo Wild & Animal Planet.

  • Whale Shark Research in Paradise

    Whale Shark Research in Paradise


    A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved with researching and conserving the largest fish in our ocean: The whale shark.

  • Internship with wildlife photography

    Internship with wildlife photography

    Greater Kruger, South Africa

    This 8 to 13 weeks course is an amazing opportunity if you dream of an internship where you will sharpen your photography skills, personal development and have an amazing learning experience in the African bush!

  • Internship with wildlife research

    Internship with wildlife research

    Greater Kruger, South Africa

    This 8 to 12 weeks internship will give you an incredible opportunity to explore African wildlife ecosystems and particular animals of interest in conservation – an amazing opportunity if you dream of a long-term involvement in wildlife conservation.

  • Okavango Guiding & Trails Courses

    Okavango Guiding & Trails Courses

    Okavango Delta, Botswana

    An unparalled experience awaits in the Okavango Delta when you join the FGASA or BQA guiding course. The course is operated by the Reed family, also known from “Safari Brothers” on National Geographic Wild.

  • Rhino & Elephant Conservation

    Rhino & Elephant Conservation


    Get involved first-hand in the daily care of endangered rhinos and elephants and join the anti-poaching efforts, conservancy management and maintenance of this family-run conservation project.

Let's stay in touch

Receive stories from the African wilderness and be the first to know about special promotions.

Contact Us