Swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef is the reason I moved to Exmouth. When some Australians I met in Queenstown, New Zealand told me that Ningaloo Reef has incredible diving and that one of the most amazing things to do in Exmouth is swimming with whale sharks, how could I not pack up and go?!
The largest shark in the ocean cruises the Ningaloo Coast from March to September, and there are several tour operations who promise an awesome encounter with these gentle giants. And no matter which company, you’re sure to have an awesome time. Each tour operator promises a slightly different experience, though and it’s important to do your research. I chose to travel with Ningaloo Whaleshark-n-Dive, and couldn’t be happier with my decision.
Here are a few things that made my day extraordinary:
Aliikai means Queen of the Sea in Hawaiian and she certainly reigns over Ningaloo! She’s a converted dive vessel and luxurious to boot! A covered, cushioned seating area, upper deck, and a spacious bow provide plenty of seating and perspectives for wildlife spotting. She is the largest purpose built dive vessel on the Ningaloo Reef, and she’s just been refitted for luxury.
Be sure to climb the ladder to the flybridge during your trip. Say hi to the captain, and be on the lookout for spinner dolphins or humpback whale spouts.
Nibbles and Noms
Do not fear… you will not starve while on Aliikai! Tea and coffee are always available and snacks are served throughout the day.
At lunchtime, choose from several salads, prawns, and sandwich ingredients to make a meal that is sure to satisfy. The team is happy to cater to all dietary restrictions, so be sure to let them know ahead of time.
Throughout the day, you’ll have the opportunity to snorkel the Ningaloo Reef. Don’t miss an opportunity to hop in the water! The bombies are full of life and who knows what you might find. Dugongs, mantas and turtles are known to hang out in the area.
Ningaloo Reef is mostly made up of hard coral, so although it’s not brightly colored, its most definitely alive. Take care not to touch the coral or take anything. This reef is still growing, and we want it to be around for a very long time!
Swimming with Whale Sharks
You didn’t think I forgot the main event, did you? Swimming with a whale shark is an indescribable experience.
In my 19 years as a scuba diver, I’ve been on many dives where the instructor stated that the highlight of the season is a glimpse of a whale shark. We’d don our tanks and cross our fingers and hope to see a whale shark. And. It. Never. Happened.
Thanks to Ningaloo Whaleshark-n-Dive’s spotter plane, a whale shark was located early on in our trip and Aliikai headed to meet her. The moment we entered the water to meet the whale shark was the culmination of 19 years’ anticipation. And it didn’t disappoint.
Swimming alongside the whale shark, I was in awe of the sheer size of the fish, but I was also drawn to the details. I noticed a cleaner fish’s tail sticking out of the whale shark’s ear and the school of tiny, brave fish swimming just in front of its enormous mouth. I observed the ridges along its back and the spots that are as unique as a fingerprint.
It’s hard to believe these giants are masters of disguise, but until the 1980s, there had only been 320 confirmed sightings of whale sharks worldwide. Those spots reflect and disperse light, making it difficult for predators to make out their outline.
Before we knew it, it was time to get back in the boat, where we shared observations and began preparing for our next swim.
Marine Biologist on Board
Jess is a marine biologist and she’s on board to answer any questions you might have. She’ll brief you before you jump in the water, giving a little information about whale sharks and how to swim with them responsibly. (Never get too close or touch a whale shark.) Then, she’s in the water, swimming with you as you geek out over coming face to fin with the world’s largest shark. And in the afternoon, she hosts a chat on the bow to learn even more about whale sharks, sharks and how we can protect them.
Over 1,000,000 sharks are killed each year to respond to consumer demand. Don’t be one of them! Sharks get a bad rep, but they’re necessary to keep the marine balance in check.
Why swim when you can scoot? When conditions are right on the afternoon snorkel, the Ningaloo Whaleshark-n-Dive team will pull out the underwater scooters. Dip, dive and fly though the water.
If you’re lucky, you may even spot a leopard stingray like I did!
Bubbles and biscuits
Have sweeter words ever been typed? How could a day swimming with whale sharks possibly get any better? Oh yeah.. how about a glass of champagne and a delicious homemade melting moment?! Yep. This tour just reached epic status.
A picture is worth a thousand words and Ningaloo Whaleshark-n-Dive includes these precious moments so you can relive this day over and over again.
By the end of the tour, we were exhausted and full of electric energy all at the same time as we reached the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp. My brain was trying to process the fact that I’d experienced a dream come true while combatting the fatigue of keeping up with a creature about 300 times my size. I was hardly off the boat before I started dreaming about the next time I’d get to swim with these majestic creatures again.
The Sweet Wanderlust tip: If you’re passing through Exmouth on a holiday, be sure to book your tour for the first day of your stay. In case you don’t get to swim with a whale shark, Ningaloo Whaleshark-n-Dive offers a second chance, free of charge.