Whale sharks attract large numbers of tourists, divers and snorkelers each year to South Ari Atoll in the Republic of Maldives. Yet without information regarding the use and economic extent of the attraction, it is difficult to prioritize conservation or implement effective management plans. We used empirical recreational data and generalized mixed statistical models to conduct the first economic valuation (with direct spend as the primary proxy) of whale shark tourism in Maldives. We estimated that direct expenditures for whale shark focused tourism in the South Ari Marine Protected Area for 2012 and 2013 accounted for US $\$$7.6 and $\$$9.4 million respectively. These expenditures are based on an estimate of 72,000-78,000 tourists who are involved in whale shark excursions annually. That substantial amount of income to resort owners and operators, and tourism businesses in a relatively small area highlights the need to implement regulations and management that safeguard the sustainability of the industry through ensuring guest satisfaction and whale shark conservation. © 2014 Cagua et al.