Whale Shark Research – Islands, Marine Life & Lemurs

In 2016, Aqua-Firma provided seed funding to help a new MMF Madagascar Whale Shark Research Project get underway amongst islands off the north west coast. Sightings are proving to be reliable here in season, with the number of individual sharks identified by our research team currently standing at 287.

Whale sharks usually begin arriving into our study area off Nosy Be island in late September - a period when Humpback Whales are also very much in the area, giving birth and breeding. Humpbacks can usually be seen until early November, whilst whale shark numbers increase into the month of October and stay through November and into early December. To have a great chance of catching whale sharks and humpback whales, we are running this trip in October when you can join our expert team of international whale shark researchers on their quest to identify and study the behaviour of Malagasy whale sharks.

Whale Shark with Researcher - Dr Simon Pierce

Whale shark scientist & photographer, Stella Diamant of the Marine Megafauna Foundation / Madagascar Whale Shark Project will be host, along with Aqua-Firma Director & photographer, Ralph Pannell. Some of the whale sharks found in Madagascar have already been fitted with satellite tracking devices, so we always know where some of them are at least. One of the most exciting features of tracking whale sharks in Madagascar is the other marine life we see with them. It is quite common for whale sharks to be within a 'bait ball' of fast swimming tuna and dive bombing sea birds. As we enter the water with snorkel gear, seeking to follow a feeding whale shark, dozens of tuna whistle past us as they hunt small fish. Watching from our research boat, the water can look likes it's boiling as tuna splash on the surface and leap several feet in the air as they chase their prey.

Whilst humpback whales are our most likely 'bycatch', this area of sea is probably the best place in the world to see Omura's Whales (Balaenoptera omurai). Sometimes referred to as False Fin Whales and False Bryde's Whales, these 'rorqual' baleen whales can reach 11 metres or so. Whilst we aren't permitted to try and snorkel with whales in Madagascar, our research team sometimes spot them underwater when we snorkel with whale sharks.

Schools of Mobula Rays are another possibility and this year we enjoyed some long underwater encounters with Bottlenose Dolphins, as well as Hawksbill & Green Turtles over seagrass and colourful reefs fringing some of the smaller offshore islands such as Nosy Tanikely.

Nosy Iranja - Dr Simon Pierce

No trip to Madagascar is complete without seeing Lemurs and Chameleons. For starters, we will base ourselves close to a Sacred Forest where Black Lemurs frequently feed close to our camp. We will also spend a full day in the best-preserved forest on Nosy Be (Lokobe) in search of the Nosy Be Sportive Lemur, Mouse Lemur and Black Lemurs; and watch large troops of Brown Lemurs on the island of Nosy Tanikely.

In pursuit of pure beauty, we will embark on an overnight trip to one of the most idyllic tropical islands you can hope to find called Nosy Iranja. When we head to this island, we will start by seeking whale sharks, but also keep an eye out for female Humpback Whales nursing their newboanr calves. Once at Nosy Iranja, we will provide excellent food and a large comfortable yet rustic beach tent from which you can walk across powder white sand into a shallow calm water bay.

Photography and video opportunities will be available above and below water. Stella and Ralph will be able to provide photography guidance and support throughout the trip. This will cover underwater and above water photography, plus use of software to edit your hard-earned images. Stella will also provide evening talks and day by day insights when out at sea into Whale Shark Ecology and latest research findings from around the world. Your participation in this trip helps to fund whale shark research in Madagascar, as do our other Whale Shark Research experiences at Mafia Island in Tanzania and Isla Mujeres in Mexico; and our Special Galapagos Shark Insights & Photography liveaboard trips.

Some scuba diving can be fitted in for those qualified, including night dives in which you can opt to use fluorescent dive lights and mask filters. You will be amazed how the reef and fish look when we bring colours usually outside our visible range, into the observable spectrum. If you would like to conduct additional diving, then we can arrange an extension on Nosy Be dedicated to that; as well as diving in the Seychelles if you want your international flights to be routed that way.

Swimming with Whale Sharks  -  Snorkel with Whale Sharks  -  Swim with Whale Shark Madagascar  -  Freediving  -  Freedive holiday  -  Baleine Safari


7 night Itinerary

This trip starts and ends in Nosy Be, but we can route you via Antananarivo and extend your stay within Madagascar with tailor made travel arrangements throughout the country. International flights do, however, go into and out of Nosy Be such as via Addis Ababa with Ethiopian Airlines, South Africa and Reunion with Air Austral / Air France.

Day 1: Arrive on the island of Nosy Be

You will be met upon arrival and then be transferred overland and then by boat to a small island just off the coast of Nosy Be. Here we will stay at a lodge set within trees overlooking a quiet bay. Beside us is a hill covered in 'sacred' forest - wildlife from which will often wander through the lodge.

Dinner is included tonight only.

Our research host will hold an initial briefing into Whale Shark Research in Madagascar. There will be further talks during the week about marine life research in Madagascar as well as elsewhere in the world. Aqua-Firma leader, Ralph Pannell, and researcher Stella Diamant will also be able to provide assistance with camera gear before we head out in search of marine life in earnest tomorrow.

Day 2: Nosy Be

This morning we will head out in search of whale sharks, as well as leaping tuna, diving sea birds, humpback whales and possibly other marine life.

In the afternoon, we will head out amongst seagrass meadows in search of grazing turtles; or you can conduct an afternoon dive.

Day 3: Nosy Be & Nosy Tanikely

This morning we will head out in search of whale sharks again.

After lunch we will head to Nosy Tanikely in search of lemurs and lizards on the island and snorkelling on its coral reefs.

This evening, scuba divers will have the opportunity to embark on a night dive. This can be a 'regular' night dive, or one using fluorescent lights and mask filter.

Day 4: Nosy Be

AM: Whale Shark & Marine Life (re)search.

PM: Snorkelling / opportunity for 1 daytime dive.

Late PM: Night dive opportunity.

Day 5: Lokobe Forest Reserve

Today we will head to the forest reserve of Lokobe, looking as we go for chameleons and lemurs.

Day 6: Heading to Nosy Iranja

This morning we will set out for one of Madagascar's most beautiful offshore islands: Nosy Iranja. En route we will seek whale sharks to research, as well as try to spot humpback whales and other life.

You can keep your room at the lodge, so you can leave all that you need to there.

When we reach Nosy Iranja, we can enjoy food, an absolutely stunning white sand beach leading into calm clear water; walk to a wild second beach where we might spot a lovely kingfisher, or wading bird; or walk to a village, along a long white sand spit to a neighbouring island, or take in views from a lighthouse on the highest point.

Day 7: Return to Nosy Be

We recommend a dip in the warm sea first thing in the morning. After breakfast we will head back out to see in search of whale sharks.

Overnight back at the lodge.

If you are not flying tomorrow then the option exists for a night dive.

Day 8: Depart Nosy Be

Transfer to the airport and flight home or elsewhere in Madagascar.


Enquire / Book 14 - 21 Oct 2021 - from £ 1,950
from US$ 2,490

with Aqua-Firma Photographer Ralph Pannell
& Madagascar's leading whale shark researcher, Stella Diamant

Enquire / Book 13 - 20 Oct 2022 - from £ 1,990
from US$ 2,550

with Aqua-Firma Photographer Ralph Pannell
& Madagascar's leading whale shark researcher, Stella Diamant


The trip begins and ends in Nosy Be. Please contact us if you wish to start the trip from Antananarivo instead**

Price per person sharing in a standard cottage

Single supplement* £250 / $299
Room upgrades available. Please enquire

*If you would like to share and we can pair you with someone of the same gender to share with, then you can avoid any single supplement.

Diving (payable locally)
- Daytime dive £55 including full kit rental
- Regular night dive £55
- Fluorescent night dive £75

Save £10 per dive if you bring your own full dive kit, including dive lights for regular night dives.

There will be four opportunities for night dives.

Price includes:
- All transportation by land and sea
- All accommodation
- All trips within itinerary (except diving at additional charge)
- Contributions to funding the research
- All breakfasts
- 2 dinners (first night and when on Nosy Iranja)
- 3 lunches
- Water when out by boat
- Donations to our research partners
- Series of evening talks about whale shark biology and latest research findings from around the World
- Photography and photo software master classes as requested

Not included:
- International air fares
- Domestic air fares (if applicable)
- Additional accommodation in Antananarivo (if applicable)
- Travel insurance
- Meals not specified
- Drinks

**Starting the trip from Antananarivo: if you choose to fly into Tana and then take a domestic flight to Nosy Be, please note that you will need to spend at least one night in Tana before the trip is due to start and at least one night afterwards. This is to mitigate against any potential flight schedule changes or delays to your domestic flights. Please contact us for more information.

  • Whale Shark with Remora, Madagascar - Ralph Pannell
  • Female Black Lemur, Nosy Tanikely - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Tented Camp on Nosy Iranja
  • Whale Shark Researcher, Nosy Be - Ralph Pannell
  • Turtle over Seagrass Beds, Nosy Sakatia - Ralph Pannell
  • Mobular Ray Madagascar - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Whale Shark Madgascar - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Omuras Whale Madagascar - Dr Simon Pierce
  • Brown Lemur, Nosy Tanikely
  • Whale Shark Madagascar - Ralph Pannell

Trip Reviews: Madagascar

  • Swimming with Whale Shark Madagascar - Aqua-Firma host Researcher & Marine Biologist Dr Simon Pierce (Marine Megafauna Foundation)
  • Whale Shark Researchers in Madagascar - Ralph Pannell - Stella Diamant
  • Green Gecko, Lokobe Reserve Madagascar - Ralph Pannell
  • Whale Shark Research and Photography - Spot Pattern identification - underwater photography Ralph Pannell (Aqua-Firma)  Madagascar
  • Snorkelling in northern Madagascar - Dr Simon Pierce MMF - Nosy Tanikely
  • Swimming Snorkelling with Bottlenose Dolphins in Madagascar - Underwater Photography Ralph Pannell (Aqua-Firma) - Panasonic Lumix in Nauticam housing
  • Male Black Lemur in lokobe Forest - photo by Ralph Pannell (Aqua-Firma)
  • Sacred Forest, Nosy Sakatia - Ralph Pannell
  • Nosy Iranja white sand beaches Madagascar
View all
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