Tourism in Tanzania boasts a huge deal of natural attractions; mountains and national parks, historical sites, and the hidden treasures beneath the ocean. One may believe that it would be easy to experience the true essence of ‘Africa’ by visiting ‘popular’ destinations. Yet, for adventure lovers, specifically water sports enthusiasts; a truly Tanzanian experience is incomplete without visiting the unspoiled and the exotic gem amongst the Islands of the country – Mafia.
This archipelago of islands uniquely positioned in the southern region of Tanzania is laid back and fairly isolated. As commonly believed, there is nothing much to explore on the island except to enjoy a fully relaxing atmosphere on the mesmerizing beaches and scattered historical ruins. As November sets in, Mafia wakes up to the coming of very special guests from the ocean and one’s purpose of visiting the island changes.
The six months from November to March define Mafia as an oceanic paradise. The island is actively visited by a flocking number of tourists for the promising sight of humongous whale sharks in astonishing numbers and with special characteristics. These species are not the common sharks that are usually notorious for being ‘life threatening’ or harmful. Whale sharks are popularly called the ‘gentle giants’, with many unique qualities. In Tanzania, Mafia is perhaps the only island that is frequently visited of these large creatures.
Fascinating characteristics of Mafia Island Whale Sharks
- These gigantic creatures are predominant in Kilindoni Bay, the west side of Mafia Island that is abundant with the planktons that are a feast for whale sharks.
- Whale Sharks are the biggest fishes, measuring up to 14 meters and with the actual size of above 18 meters.
- They breathe through gills and belong to the elasmobranches group of fishes, with a skeleton made of cartilage.
- Unlike dangerous sharks, this variety does not feed on large creatures. It is fascinating to know that their vision is limited to tiny plants and fishes. Large creatures such as human beings appear too huge to eat.
- The gentle giants have a docile demeanor and lack bite. It is safe to swim close to these fishes without being attacked. They have large mouths to suck in large quantities of water and release through their gills.
- One can witness a number of up to 24 whale sharks at a time (in a family of males, females and juveniles), which can be seen very close to boats and at stunningly large sizes underwater.
- Whale sharks have distinct dazzling blue spots on their body, as unique as human fingerprint. They often use this colour as a camouflage and their large body sizes as a defense mechanism against large predators.
- Whale sharks are enlisted as endangered species. These creatures are vulnerable to boat traffic and are highly sensitive to human touch that causes high levels of infection. It is recommended to enjoy their presence without exploiting or without going overboard while exploring.
Mafia and its surrounding waters are popular for underwater creatures and proudly, the island is Tanzania’s first marine park. With a diving depth of less than 30 meters and rich and unspoiled reefs stunningly embellishing the ocean, Mafia is a paradise for snorkeling and diving as well. It is highly recommended to visit the island during October to March to plentifully enjoy the treasures of the archipelago; magical whale sharks and mesmerizing marine life under the blessed waters of Mafia.
Support Whale Shark Conservation
Whale shark tourism industry is growing steadily in Mafia Island and whale sharks are listed on the endangered species list. As such, scientists and conservationists are raising concerns for the potential impact of tourism on whale shark populations. It is recommended to follow the good practice guidelines during whale shark viewing as instructed by boat captains. As compassionate beings, we urge to ensure safe shark excursion and avoiding any form of disturbance to these endangered species.
Photo Credits: My special thanks to Mr. Eric Beaume for all the photo contributions for this special article on http://www.letstraveltanzania.wordpress.com