Seeing whale sharks in Tofo with Marine Megafauna Foundation
We arrived in Mozambique via Maputo airport at midday. After half a day looking for the last missing piece of equipment that we might need, followed by a short night in a guesthouse, we jumped early morning on a chappas (local bus) to reach our first destination, Tofo, where we would meet the Marine Megafauna Foundation.
Tofo is located in the Inhambane province, 6-7 hours drive north from Maputo. It’s an unusual and amazing place. No surprise that it’s one of Mozambique’s tourist[JB1] hotspots, but from what we saw the area was still protected from mass tourism. The area has a good mix between a traditional fishing area and a tourism and as a result, the place is stunning.
Composed of two amazing beaches (Tofo and Tofinho), it offers plenty of different activities. Tofinho is supposed to be the best surf spot of the country. We arrived a few weeks after a cyclone and 5 metre high waves made surfing difficult to consider for us! But this beach, with a length of more or less 5 km, is free of any construction and the dunes offers an amazing view of the ocean. You can see the view for yourself in our videos, as many of the ocean view video rushes were filmed there!
Tofo is where the village is located as well as much accommodations. Built around a central and traditional market, this place has chilled out vibes and sunsets there are priceless.Coming back to the reason for our visit. As I said, many activities are possible here but most revolve around the ocean, as the area as the area is famous for being a biodiversity hotspot with two iconic species: whale sharks and manta rays.
This is why Marine Megafauna Foundation office for Mozambique (they have other offices around the world) is located there and we came to spend a few days with them to discover their amazing work!
Marine Megafauna Foundation’s (MMF) mission is to save threatened marine life using pioneering research, education, and sustainable conservation solutions, working towards a world where marine life and humans thrive together.
This three pillars approach was definitely something we wanted to highlight and there was no better way to do it than to spend time with the team, in order to learn more about what they do!
We joined the team on a Friday night. It wasn’t on purpose but allowed us to be quickly and casually introduced.
We were staying at the same place as them during our stay, so we were really able to see daily operation.
After being introduced to all of the team members, we started to plan over the weekend to make the most of our stay during the week: what to film, who to interview and obviously where to find the whale sharks!
The first day was spent mainly shadowing different people in the foundation to get to know a bit more about who they were, where they came from, what they were doing...Surf conditions were also good so we took advantage of it at the end of the day. Not in Tofinio as the waves were still 5m high, but Tofo beach was more protected exposition and offered really nice conditions! Just out of the water, someone told Ben about bull sharks in the area. We’re still trying to figure out if it was a bad joke or not, but regarding that it is a very famous surfing spot, we preferred not to ask more questions!
The second day was the one of our first ocean safari! Ocean safari is an activity organized by dive centres to bring people to encounter iconic marine species, here manta rays and whale sharks. It’s open to everyone as it’s done snorkelling and freediving. No need for dive equipment here, just a mask and a snorkel. The idea behind it is great as it helps introduce people to the beauty of the ocean, raise awareness and generate revenues from a new kind of eco-tourism which needs the ocean in a good shape to work properly.
However, if you plan to take part in this kind of activity, please make sure that the people running it follow basic rules to protect the animals. Not a worry for us since we went with the boat of Peri-Peri divers, a local diving club on agreement with MMF. We spent 3 hours in the waves looking for a dark mass in the water. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any… but we met other people from the organisation, in particular the ones in charge of the research part. MMF takes part in these boat trips on a daily basis, which gives them a chance to check on the megafauna and increase their database with valuable information. Speaking with them made us realise that whale shark encounters do not occurred as frequently as before, as the population of the species has been reducing due to various threats. I have to be honest, seeing a whale shark has always been a dream and knowing that I might not see any during this trip was a hard blow.
The afternoon was dedicated to the first round of interviews which would be used to highlight who MMF are, who the amazing individuals working there are and what they are doing collectively to protect the marine megafauna.
As soon as we woke up the next day, we went with the education team to a local school of Inhambane. We took part in a lesson where students learnt more about the ocean, why it should be protected and how to do it. Training and educating the next generation of coastline communities is one of MMF’s missions. The education team is also running the Nemos Pequenos program where they teach local students to swim with the aim of helping them to connect with the ocean and encouraging them to become future ocean guardians.
A part we were unfortunately unable to see while there is the conservation program where MMF works with local communities to implement sustainable fishing methods. One pillar of the MMF approach, along with research and conservation. But we held a really nice interview with Charlie, the conservation program manager, explaining everything!
Like the day before, the afternoon was dedicated to finishing the interviews as we were leaving the next day. Without yet having seen a whale shark…
Maybe I looked too depressed or it’s just that the people there are just amazing, but Alex from the research team managed to take us on the morning ocean safari. Timing was tight because we were leaving at noon and one interview was not finished yet, but by running everywhere we made it to the boat, hoping to be back on time to catch the bus!
We left for our last boat ride and the final opportunity of the trip to see a whale shark. Needless to say, there was some tension! As it was our last day, a big part of the MMF team joined us on this ride.
To our relief, after half an hour we saw one! A 7-8m long whale shark was there, quietly swimming one meter under the surface. We went straight for the water as soon as the boat stopped and faced this amazing animal with the aim of taking good photographs and enjoying this magical moment. By the way, it’s not really easy to swim as fast as you can to keep up with a whale shark, freedive with it to see it from all angles and hold your camera still enough to take good images! But against all odds we managed to capture some. The feeling of swimming along next to a whale shark is just priceless. We followed it for around one hour until it became tired of us and dived to depths where it was impossible for us to follow him.
After this amazing experience, it was already time to head back to Tofo to catch the bus. We just had the time to land on the beach, grab our bags and say goodbye, before running to wherever we could find a ride to Maxixe where we would catch a bus to Vilankulos.
On the road again, we managed to catch the bus after a special boat ride crossing the straight. We arrived later that night in Vilankulos for a stop, before heading north again to meet the next project.
Huge thanks to the MMF team in Tofo who made our stay amazing and taught us a lot about marine conservation and the great job they are doing!
Find more info on their website about what they do, how you can help or even how you can be part of this initiative:
We also made a video about what we saw during our stay with them in Mozambique: