Swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo - Mark Fitz

Swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo

One of the big drawcards to Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia are the whale sharks that frequent the turquoise waters here. From April to July each year, Live Ningaloo lead small group tours that give you the chance to swim alongside these gentle giants as they feed on plankton just below the surface. I was lucky enough to join one of these tours on my recent trip to Sal Salis and it was an unforgettable experience!

Within 15 minutes of us setting out aboard Live Ningaloo’s luxury vessel ‘Wave Rider’ we came across our first marine life encounter of the day and one of the Big 3, a manta ray. During the months of July and August, guests are quite often treated to sightings of the Big 3 around Ningaloo. The Big 3 comprises whale sharks, manta rays and hump back whales. July and August are the crossover months where whale sharks season is coming to a close and hump back whale season is just beginning. My visit was in late July and as such it was the perfect time to try and see all three of these incredible animals.

After a safety briefing and instructions on how to get the best out of our time with the manta ray, we were quickly into the water and swimming with this beautiful animal for around 10minutes. It was a great way to start to the tour and we were all pretty excited for the day ahead.

Back aboard the boat, it didn’t take long then until we spotted the second of the Big 3, a couple of hump back whales! They put on quite a show as they leapt out of the water and splashed about and we couldn’t believe our luck. It didn’t take long then for the skipper to let us know even more good news, there was a whale shark nearby!

One of the great things about the Live Ningaloo tours is that they use a spotter plane to help find the whale sharks. As they are wild animals and move around each day it would be quite difficult to know exactly where they were without some help from above. It’s the pilots job to fly up and down the reef each day and let the skipper know where the nearest whale sharks are. Fortunately for us, this whale shark was very close by!

Nothing quite prepares you for the first time you see a whale shark under the water. They’re the largest fish in the ocean and it’s quite surreal to be in the sea alongside these giants. Despite their huge size, they’re very docile and are quite happy to go about their day doing their own thing and more often than not, that involves feeding on plankton. Cruising along with their mouths wide open, they are adorable to watch. It’s very important not to get too close to them though, even though they’re several meters long, they’re easy to spook and if they feel threatened they will dive down and swim away.

From the boat they look like they’re quite slow moving, it’s not until you’re in the water that you realise just how fast they are swimming. The Live Ningaloo skipper and tour guides do a great job of getting guests in the best position to see the whale sharks and then it’s up to you to swim along and try and keep up with the whale shark! Our whale shark was quite content to swim along with us not too far behind and we were fortunate to be able to swim with him six times and spend about an hour in the water. Whale shark encounters are limited to an hour so we were extremely lucky to be able to be able to get the maximum time with him!

After an amazing morning in the water and ticking off the Big 3 from our wish lists, it was then time for a quick afternoon snorkel on the inner reef. The incredible marine encounters don’t end once the whale shark swim wraps up either, the inner reef is home to an abundance of colourful coral and fish. With superb weather and sensational underwater visibility, we spent about 45minutes snorkelling in the pristine shallow waters.

Finally, it was time to cruise back to the mainland but not before a couple of amazing surprises on the journey home. We were joined by a tiger shark for a quick visit as she came into check out the boat and then shortly afterwards we spotted dolphins and a turtle! The waters here at Ningaloo really are teeming with life and I’ve never had so many incredible marine life encounters in just the one day!

If you’d like to know a little more about the tours that Live Ningaloo operate, please check out their website at www.liveningaloo.com.au