There are few experiences in life more memorable than swimming with a whale shark, the world’s largest fish, and Ningaloo is one of only a few places worldwide where they appear with any regularity – and in easily accessible waters.
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It is the mass spawning of more than 200 species of coral every March or April that brings the whale sharks here and sightings are common until July. Interaction with these gentle giants (the juvenile males seen here can measure up to 12 metres long) is strictly regulated, with only one boat allowed to operate within the exclusive contact zone of 250 metres around each whale shark at any one time and just 10 swimmers in the water at once. This keeps both the whale shark itself and your interaction with it calm and relaxed – you won’t be surrounded by too many other people. You will need to be a competent swimmer and can expect to be in and out of the water all day.
Nothing can prepare you for the utter delight of swimming alongside a fish the size of a bus and with your eyes and ears in the water all else is blocked out until you emerge from this other-worldly experience. If you are in Exmouth during whale shark season this is absolutely not to be missed.
There are numerous whale shark tour operators running trips out from Exmouth and a few based in Coral Bay too. Some have their own spotter planes to increase the likelihood of finding a whale shark and all will equip you with masks, snorkel and fins, plus a wetsuit.
Coral Bay Ecotours coralbayecotours.com.au.
Ningaloo Experience ningalooexperience.com.
Ningaloo Reef Dreaming ningaloodreaming.com.
Ocean Eco Adventures oceanecoadventures.com.au. Thanks to their exclusive spotter plane, whale shark sightings on Ocean Eco Adventures’ one-day tours ($395) are almost guaranteed. You’ll be in and out of the water with them, as well as manta rays, turtles and other marine life. A DVD of your experience is included and lunch is a feast of local gourmet produce including fresh Exmouth prawns.
Three Islands Marine Charters whalesharkdive.com. This passionate company focuses on one thing only – memorable whale shark snorkel tours with experienced skippers (March–July). A videographer records your day and a complimentary DVD is included.