See Whale Sharks in Mafia Island, Tanzania


Located off the coast of Tanzania, just south of Zanzibar, Mafia Island doesn’t actually have anything to do with the Italian Mafia. The word is Swahili for “healthy dwelling place,” which is the perfect name for this idyllic island. The local whale sharks are known as papa shilingi (“coin shark”) to islanders, after the coin-shaped dot patterns on their backs. Each is unique, like a fingerprint.

Tour operators Kitu Kiblu at Kilindoni are noted for their responsible practices. Swim, snorkel or participate in citizen science by taking photos for research purposes. Mafia Island is also a great diving destination and the Mafia Island Marine Park (the biggest marine reserve in the whole of the Indian Ocean) is home to an abundance of reef life.

Mafia Island is best accessed via a one-hour flight from coastal Tanzanian city, Dar A Salaam. Visit between October and February for prime whale shark sightings.

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