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"Whereas there were once as many as fifteen thousand divers on the island, there are now only about five thousand."

"Where there were once as many as fifteen thousand divers on the island, there are now only about five thousand."

I know that "whereas" is supposed to be used when contrasting, but when I switched it with "where" in this example it still made sense. So my question is ..... are these two sentences grammatically correct?

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Both words can be used here. Collins Cobuild picks up on this reasonably common usage of where:

where

... 5. [conjunction]

You use where to introduce a clause that contrasts with the other parts of the sentence.

  • Where some would have given up, she and her coach were determined to lift their game.
  • Sometimes a teacher will be listened to, where a parent might not.

[COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary]

AHD is clear here:

where [conjunction] ... 3. Whereas:

  • That model has an attractive design, where this one is more dependable.

I'll admit that I'd use 'while' in AHD's example, as it both compares (two pluses) and contrasts (pluses / drawbacks).

Fleshed out, 'in situations / a situation where' or in OP's example 'The situation once being that', followed by a contrasting second statement ... but then these would sound clunky. In fact, OP's second variant sounds stylistically better to my ears.

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