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Swimming with whale sharks

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Swimming with whale sharks

story by: Tom Ricketts

Getting into the water with a 20 ton, 13 metre shark certainly doesn’t sound appealing. Especially when it’s called a Whale Shark! “What on Earth is that” I hear you say... “A shark the size of a whale?!” Thankfully no. In fact these creatures seem much more similar to a whale than they do a shark. They’re slow moving, docile, friendly, and most importantly, they only eat plankton. Suddenly swimming with these creatures sounds far more awesome than it does scary! There’s only a few places around the world where it can be done, and one of those places is the Ningaloo Reef, off Exmouth, Western Australia.

First things first, we need to get to Exmouth, which is no mean feat. Exmouth lies about halfway up the coast of Western Australia, which itself is still a three day scenic drive from Perth. However if you don’t have the time to drive, there are regular two hour flights from Perth.

Exmouth started off as a military base in World War II, although little military remains there today. Instead the towns 2,000 people rely on tourism, and the main attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef.

At 260 kilometres long, the Ningaloo is just a baby when compared to the Great Barrier Reef. However unlike its eastern cousin, the Ningaloo Reef lies just mere metres offshore making it delightfully accessible to everyone. It’s certainly has as much to see as well. Over 300 species of coral, 600 species of molluscs and 500 species of fish live here, including dolphins, manta rays, dugongs, and sea turtles. And then there’s the biggest of them all, the whale shark.

Around 300-500 whale sharks visit Ningaloo Reef each year. They start arriving in mid-March, and stay on to late July munching on plankton. Your day out starts with a quick cruise out to the reef. Whale sharks are so big that they send out planes to fly over the reef, spot the whale sharks from the air, and direct the boat towards them. Then it’s suiting up time, and into the water you go. Once you’re alongside the whale sharks, their massive size becomes evident. Chances are they won’t even take a second look at you as they cruise through the water, you’re far too small to be threatening to them! You’re free to swim around the shark as you choose. There will be no more than ten people in the water, and one of them is an underwater photographer there to record your once-in-a-lifetime dive for you. A selfie with a whale shark makes for a pretty impressive profile pic!

Lunch is served on board, as well as snacks at morning and afternoon tea. In the afternoon you’ll either head out to find some more whale sharks, or perhaps some manta rays, dolphins or dugongs.

Either way, it’s an amazing bucket list activity, one you’ll never forget.

> Discover more about Western Australia here.

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