Snorkelling with whale sharks has long been at the top of my bucket list and in August I was lucky enough to put a HUGE tick against this by swimming with not 1 but 3 different sharks with a total of 12 swims!
I first visited Exmouth on a family road trip when I was 10 where we spent our time fishing, checking out emus on the beach, floating over turtles and manta rays on a glass bottom boat and snorkelling at Turquoise Bay. Finally 17 years later it was time to head back up north! Yippee!!
I flew up to Exmouth, a town on the Coral Coast of Western Australia from Perth with a group of travel agents on a short 2.5hr flight with Qantas.We spent our first afternoon relaxing in the spa on our balcony overlooking the beach at the beautiful Mantarays Ningaloo Resort.
After breakfast the next day I couldn’t contain my excitement. Actually for the weeks leading up to this day I couldn’t either. We got picked up by Exmouth Diving Centre at 7am ready for our 45 minute drive to the boat ramp. Once on board the boat we all tried our wetties on with the biggest smiles.
As we were heading out to our first stop on the outer Ningaloo Reef for a snorkel we spotted some dolphins and then the Humpback Whales showed up. Woohoo! The first of the big 3 I was hoping to see and it wasn’t even 9am.
We reached our first snorkel stop. After watching Chasing Coral a few weeks before and seeing the devastation of the Great Barrier Reef I was feeling a bit apprehensive as to the condition of the reef. I was happy to see healthy coral and I felt I was able to appreciate the coral so much more- especially seeing so many varieties of soft coral.
The Ningaloo Reef is one of the world’s most pristine and isolated coral reefs and on the outer reef you’ll meet some of the reef’s larger inhabitants, including graceful manta rays and turtles. This is where we saw number 2 of the big 3.
We climbed our way back onto the boat and only a short time later we had heard from our spotter plane that there was a whale shark. OMG! I was going to see a whale shark!
WOW by 10am I had just swum with whale sharks and already experienced our third of the big 3. After a few swims, we had a break for lunch and were lucky enough to spot more Humpbacks that put on quite a show for us.
Up to 500 whale sharks travel to the Ningaloo Reef each year from March to feed. The season usually ends August/ September but even in October they are being spotted daily. Sadly, the World Wildlife Fund now lists whale sharks as endangered. Their numbers globally have halved in the past 75yrs.
The main reasons are due to finning, plastic ingestion, bycatch, speed boats, fisheries, and tourist operations. Whale sharks are legally protected in Australian Commonwealth waters, the Maldives, the Philippines, India, Thailand, Malaysia, Honduras, Mexico, in U.S. Atlantic waters, and in a small sanctuary area off Belize.
However, in some countries like China and Oman there is a high demand for the fins, meat and oil. The fins are used for shark fin soup with the animal thrown back into the water and left to die. The oil from the sharks liver is used for things like shoeshine!
Plastic pollution poses a major threat to all marine species, however, micro-plastics have a higher chance of being ingested by animals, especially the filter feeders and those that spend time at the surface. Ingested plastics can block digestive tracks
Ecotourism projects are working on safe interactions between whale sharks and humans, while promoting regional tourist economies. This requires a high level of monitoring to make sure that the increase of tourism does not negatively affect the sharks. The guys up at Ningaloo do it so well. They’re big on traveller education and whale shark interaction training.
How can you help?
-Support World Wildlife Fund and their efforts to protect whale sharks
-Ditch single use plastics and products with microbeads
-Attend beach cleanups with Sea Shepherd
-Only use companies focused on ecotourism and are dedicated to the conservation of the environment and marine life. These animals should not be fed to guarantee a sighting.
-Ecocean is a not-for-profit organisation who adapted a software program from NASA to help identify sharks from their spots. Help build up their photo database by submitting a clear photo of the whale shark you saw at whaleshark.org. They’ll also keep you posted if your shark is spotted again. Pretty cool huh?!
Swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo has been one of my favourite experiences I’ve ever done and I can’t wait to go visit these beautiful creatures again soon.
Want to swim with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo too?
–Exmouth Diving Centre