Exmouth, Ningaloo Reef / Western Australia
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The ultimate guide to swimming with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo Reef
What is the best time?
In over 16 years in the industry, I think the later in the season you book, the more value you get! You have better chances to get ‘bonus’ Manta Rays and Humpback Whales, yet the temperature is getting colder! Mind you, the water temperature never goes below 22 degrees Celsius in the lagoon and 24 degrees Celsius in the ocean! If you can, try to avoid the school holidays! Regardless, the best experience and value for money are reflected in our Whale Shark Packages.
Can I swim with a Whale Shark?
Almost everybody can do it! Our daughter Nami was the youngest ever, when she was only 3 years old! On the other hand the oldest Lady I have taken out was 93, when a massive 9m Whale Shark came straight towards us! You don’t have to be a scuba diver or Olympic swimmer! Just tell us what level you are and the crew will make sure you will be looked after!
Scuba diving or Snorkelling?
Over the years our tours have developed from scuba diving to snorkelling to insure the best interaction and time with the sharks! Whale Sharks are fish and do not need to come to the surface for air! The Whale Sharks are on the surface and can be seen quite easily by just floating on the water! If you are a good swimmer however, you will have more time with the shark and can position yourself in the best viewing angle. Snorkelling allows you to swim longer and faster, meaning you are able to have maximum time with the Shark! Water absorbs light especially the colour red! Only 3 meters of water are enough to almost fully absorb it. Therefore, the best viewing and colour of the shark is near the surface. Some operators combine scuba diving with Whale Sharking. This has proven unsuccessful over and over again. The scuba divers are not happy to have their dive cut short when a Whale Shark is sighted just minutes into their dive! The snorkellers are not happy waiting an hour at anchor for the scuba divers to finish their dive! I therefore do not recommend this type of tour. Treat the diving with the respect it deserves and the Whale Sharking as a very special day of its own and you will get the most out of both!
How does it work – a Whale Shark Tour in a nutshell
About 7:40am a small tour operator bus will pick you up from the BEST WESTERN Sea Breeze Resort and you will be transferred to the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp at Ningaloo Reef. From here you will be ferried by small tender boats to the Whale Shark boats (usually converted Cray boats 30-70ft long). After a quick safety briefing you will be taken to a nice snorkel spot in the lagoon to check out the coral reef! The crew is checking your snorkelling skills and makes sure everybody is comfy in the water! This snorkelling is done on great sites with very old coral bommies (formations) and a great density and diversity of marine life. Once everyone has ‘cooled off’ a Whale Shark Interaction Briefing follows morning tea and then you travel from the lagoons out onto the Indian Ocean! At around 9:30am the first planes are up to search for the Whale Sharks! At the back of the fringing Ningaloo Reef. We sometimes find Dugongs, Manta Rays, Humpback Whales, Turtles, Dolphins, Eagle Rays and of course the big and beautiful Whale Sharks! On a great day (almost every day in 2009 and 10/ 11 and 2012) within minutes the spotter plane finds a Whale Shark and you get in to snorkel alongside them! Only a maximum of 10 passengers are allowed in the water at one time, plus a dive master and videographer!
Once everybody is happy or worn out, lunch appears on deck and the search might continue for more Whale Sharks or Mantas and Humpbacks. Sometimes the wind picks up and the skipper decides to ‘nick’ back into the lagoons to go for another snorkel, rather than bash into the wind and waves for 2 hours. Usually the tour finishes back on the mooring around 15:00 (3pm) and back in town around 4pm!
Another tip: If you take your camera along, PLEASE DON’T USE IT ON YOUR FIRST SWIM! You will spoil your day! Enjoy the first time only focusing on the shark not on your camera! You risk stuffing up both, your pictures and your experience! On the next few drops by all means take the camera and go for glory! With the experience and excitement of the first run out of the way you will now be ‘cool’ enough to take a good picture!
One more tip: Buy the Video! It is a great ‘documentary’ of this day! Make sure you tell the videographer at the beginning of the trip that you are interested and he/she will make sure that you are covered in the video! All is filmed in HD so you get a great quality DVD to show your friends and family back home! You will kick yourself when you are back home and missed out!
What if I don’t see a Whale Shark?
Please plan enough time in Exmouth so that you can take advantage of the non-sighting policy! Remember you are coming a long way for this life changing experience! You need to know about the Non-Sighting Policy – Ningaloo’s operators put so much trust in their operations to almost ‘guarantee’ you a swim with these gentle giants. This is how it works – You go out and for whatever reason the Whale Sharks don’t come to the surface. After all it is the wilderness and not a zoo! The Sharks are there but in a depth where the spotter plane pilots can’t see them. So the Whale Shark is in charge if he wants to be on the surface or not! Remember the Whale Shark is the largest FISH in the ocean, at a size of a Whale! Whale Sharks don’t need to come to the surface to breath they are there for food and soaking up the warmth of the water! So sometimes it happens that there are no Whale Sharks on the surface and the day passes by without a sighting. So the tour operators now offer anyone on board another day out FOR FREE! Please note that Observers (people who have been booked on board for the day out, but not to swim with the Whale Sharks) are NOT eligible for the free re-run! This ‘free’ run is only available to the next available spot, which may not be the next day! Please plan enough time for this possible re-run. However if you are unable to take the free re-run, you can get a voucher for later in the season or the following season. The reason for this is that all operators are only allowed, under their license, to operate with a max. of 20 people (2 groups at max. 10 snorkellers in the water at one time!). They may add a dive master and a videographer so a max. of 12 people all up in the water at one time! This insures that the Whale Shark interaction is controlled and insures minimum impact on the sharks! We have an ever increasing success in the Whale Shark interaction and I put it largely to code of conduct and soft Eco Tourism. The Shark is in charge and if they don’t what to come up, they don’t have to! 2012 and 2013 were the perfect seasons 100% successful trips!
Owner & Managing Director
These tips have been exclusively compiled for you by Axel who has been living and working in the tourism industry at Ningaloo Reef for the last 18 years.
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Over the years we have created some amazing Whale Shark Packages which not only save you money, but also leave you with peace of mind that everything on your holiday at Ningaloo Reef is taken care of!
Whale Shark Season 2016 starts in