So, we are coming to Zanzibar soon and want to book a day of diving. We are not so interested in small fish, and we want to dive with the big animals. Preferably with manta rays, whale sharks, whales, hammerheads, sharks, and other big fish. Is it the right season?
We recently get many of these emails, and I often wonder where people get these ideas.
Diving in Zanzibar with Whale Shark, Manta Rays, and lots of Sharks?
I decided to search the web and find why everyone these days are so eager to dive with pelagic in Zanzibar. My first search result was climbkilimanjaroguide.com. I found that in Zanzibar you can “explore forgotten shipwrecks and swim with manatees, rays, whale sharks”. Now, this article is long, very thorough, and even offers exact seasons for watching all these animals. The photos in this guide are great, but most of them were not taken anywhere in the Indian Ocean. To my opinion, the writer has never dived in Zanzibar.
Next, I found the PADI Travel website. I mean, who hasn’t heard about PADI. We teach PADI Courses in our shop every day. Why should they spread misinformation, right?
According to the PADI Travel – diving in Zanzibar page, you can see almost every sought-after pelagic right here in Zanzibar. From the magical blue whale giants, minke whales, whale sharks, manta rays, hammerheads and more. There is even a calendar telling you exactly which month each of them can be spotted.
Lastly, I checked on Google images. Ranking highest for diving in Zanzibar are photos of whale sharks that were not taken in Zanzibar, and were probably copied from the internet.
I found at least 20 other websites in various languages portraying Zanzibar as the new pelagic next destination. The common ground that I found between all these websites is that none of them is really a dive center, and most of the writers did not even visit Zanzibar in their life. These are mainly websites, dive directories, and blogs (established in the last few years) that are trying to generate profits.
So, my advice to you is, always check with the local dive centers. Dive magazines, dive directories, bloggers and even PADI Travel are not experts when it comes to local environments. In fact, there is a good chance that what they write is completely NOT true.
What can you REALLY see while diving in Zanzibar?
Zanzibar still has beautiful reefs with a great variety of soft and hard corals. Additionally, the variety of small creatures makes the magic of Zanzibar marine life.
Diving in Tumbatu Island in the last few years, we almost never miss the unusually large seahorses who live on the seagrass at the bottom of that reef. frogfish, rhinopias, crocodile fish, leaf fish and mantis shrimps are very common and unique to Zanzibar’s reefs, and you won’t find them that often diving in other places around the world. In addition, there are octopuses, squids, stonefish, spanish dancers, variety of nudibranchs, and many other small sea creatures which make Zanzibar dives so great.
Common dolphins live in the waters around Zanzibar. There are two pods that are seen almost daily between Nungwi and Mnemba atoll. We encounter dolphins in Mnemba, or on the way there, on about half of our Mnemba trips. To not disturb them, we only jump in to swim with them when we feel that they are in a playful mood. Underwater while diving we see them on average 4-5 time a month. The chance of seeing dolphin and maybe even swim or dive with them is definitely a good reason to dive in Mnemba Atoll.
Green turtles and hawksbill turtles used to be extremely common in Zanzibar. I remember a day when I counted 23 of them in one dive spot! Unfortunately, there are fewer of them these days, but there is still a good chance to hop into them on any of our dive sites.
Humpback whales migrate close to Zanzibar in August-September and are usually seen next to Leven Bank and in the Mnemba channel. On average, we are lucky to spot them on about 7-8 times in each season. We only spot them off our boats and never underwater as they are moving quite fast. Sometimes they can be seen right off Nungwi beach. In 2020 and 2021, the humpbacks migrated farther from the Island (this already happened in the past), and we did not spot any of them.
White-tip reef sharks do live on Zanzibar reefs and can occasionally be seen in Mnemba Atoll on Big Wall, Shark House and Wattabomi. You might get lucky and see them on your dive, but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.
What will you NOT see while diving in Zanzibar?
WHALE SHARKS are from the highest-ranking images on Google when searching for diving Zanzibar. Sadly, most of these images were not really taken in Zanzibar water. Some whale sharks do pass close to Zanzibar Island, and I even remember the marvel of seeing one passing right in front my dive students in Mnemba Atoll. Unfortunately, the number of times that a whale shark is spotted on a dive in Zanzibar every year can be counted on one hand at the most. If you really want to snorkel with these giants, they are extremely common and seen daily, in November-December in MAFIA ISLAND, located about 100 miles to the South of Zanzibar.
HAMMERHEADS might pass in the waters near Zanzibar and can be occasionally seen in the fish market but so far, I have met only two dive instructors who saw them in our waters.
None of the experienced old local captains whom I know have ever seen a BLUE WHALE in Zanzibar. The Sea of Cortez in Mexico is the best place in the world to see the biggest whale in the planet, the blue whales.
I have personally seen MANTA RAYS twice during my 2000+ dives in Zanzibar. I know that instructors spot them once in a blue moon but, unless you are a dive instructor working here for 2 years, your chance to see one is zero. If you really wish to dive with manta rays in the Indian Ocean, Maldives, Seychelles and of course Mozambique are great places with high chances to see them.
We are trying to get a ship to be sunk next to Tumbatu newly declared marine conservation area, but this has not happened yet. For now, there is only one boat wreck in Stone Town. Some might call it SHIPWRECK but it is only a little boat, unfortunately.
So, is the diving good in Zanzibar?
With warm and clear water almost all year round, abundance of small marine life, dolphin pods and other animals, we find that the large majority of the thousands of divers who pass through our dive shop yearly leave satisfied, and many returns or send friends and family. But, if you are looking specifically for a destination for big animals, I can highly recommend doing a live-aboard in the Maldives or diving in Tofu, Mozambique.