Swimming With The Whale Sharks!

Trip Start Feb 01, 2005
Trip End Dec 31, 2020

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Flag of Australia  , Western Australia,
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The tension amongst the wetsuit clad tourists was palpable. The boat was quiet, with the engine cut and the chatter petered out as we waited, waited, waited...... Then suddenly a large dark shape appeared and someone shouted is THAT a whale shark? We were about to experience a once in a life time adventure - swimming with the whale sharks on the Ningaloo Reef. 

The adventure started when we were at work and a call came over the UHF radio that is an integral part of communications in Bayview were we work. The call was from Coral Bay Adventures who said they had two places available on the boat if we could be ready in five minutes. Yes of course!

Being able to swim with the Whale Sharks, dubbed the gentle giants of the sea, is pretty much a unique experience to Coral Bay and Exmouth. While Whale Sharks can be found in other places of the world occurrences are patchy and unpredictable and generally not in near shore waters, where they are easily accessible by observers. The Whale sharks come to Coral Bay each year between March and early June, and being able to swim with them is a carefully controlled privilege where rules of interaction are closely observed by the three tour operators in Coral Bay, who run whale shark tours.

We were quickly fitted out with wetsuits, which must be worn by all, and grabbed our own snorkels and fins and then we were on to the bus with the other tourists, for the short few kilometres to where we would be taken out to the tour boat.

The guests are first taken to a snorkel spot to judge their swimming ability and to also check that everyone is comfortable with their gear. While this is happening a spotter plane is up in the air looking for whale sharks and as the boat gets underway again, after the snorkel, the anticipation and tension builds. We are divided into two groups of ten and told to be ready at a moments notice.

Is that a Whale Shark? Yes! One of the crew slips into the water and quickly swims towards the whale shark and signals to another crew member to get the first group into the water. Sometimes, as soon as the Whale Shark is spotted, it dives deep but luckily for us this whale shark stayed around.  Whale sharks can grow as big as 18 metres long (they have never been seen less than four metres) which is a pretty daunting size to be in the water with! It is deep water too and as you launch yourself off the back of the boat and swim as hard as you can to where the crew member is, you are acutely aware that it is VERY deep water.

We are all astounded and overwhelmed by the experience! On the boat we had been coached on how to form a group around the whale shark and not to get closer than 3 metres but the whale shark didn't know that and at times we found ourselves closer as he moved towards us! All too soon we were being signaled to group together ready to be picked up by the boat as the other group swam off after the moving whale shark. A alternating pattern then started so that we each had three chances to swim as did the two groups from the other boat that had arrived. The whale shark then decided he'd had enough interaction and dived down deep.

We were utterly exhausted as the swimming was fast and furious, but also elated and euphoric. What an experience!!

Not everyone who goes out on a tour gets to swim with the Whale sharks. They can't be guaranteed. Some companies like the one we went with do offer a second trip to try again but many people coming to Coral Bay haven't allowed enough time. Coral Bay Adventures, who we went out with, offer a two year repeat time frame so you could comeback the following year and try again.

A fabulous lunch followed and then another snorkel topped off a very special day.
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