1250km north of Perth at the very tip of Australia’s west coast is a small town called Exmouth, famous for giving travellers the opportunity to swim with whale sharks. If you don’t already know what a whale shark is, let me educate you.
The whale shark is a slow, graceful filter-feeding shark and the worlds largest fish. The biggest ever recorded was 12.65 m (41.5 ft) long and weighed about 21.5 t (47,000 lb). If that still doesn’t impress you, take a look at this image comparing an average human to an average whale shark.
My personal opinion is that they look like an adorable, although very large, sock puppet from the front. From the side and from behind they are nothing less than an impossibly big, slightly terrifying and very majestic shark.
Their huge mouths can open up to 1.5 m (4.9 ft) wide and contain around 3000 tiny teeth, but don’t panic, they mostly eat plankton using their filter pads, eating up to 21 kg (46 pounds) a day. The average length and weight for a whale shark is a mere 9.7 m (31.82 ft) and 9 t (20,000 lb) respectively.
Now that you know how impressive a whale shark can be, you can understand (maybe?) just how excited I was for the chance to throw myself into the ocean and swim alongside these wonderful sharks.
There are a ton of companies to choose from in Exmouth but there’s only one I would recommend: Ningaloo Whale Sharks. Here’s why:
- they have been voted Best Adventure Tour in Western Australia,
- the crew are super friendly and very knowledgeable, with a marine biologist on board to answer any tricky questions
- they have their own spotter plane to find a whale shark away from the other boats,
- a photographer will be in the water with you to capture the perfect photo,
- you can go snorkeling on the reef for free or scuba diving for only $55,
- you get a delicious lunch and plenty of juice to keep you hydrated, plus a glass of champagne at the end to celebrate an amazing day
- they offer a whale shark guarantee – if you don’t swim with a whale shark you can go again for free, take a voucher valid for 3 years or get a $140 refund.
Make sure you book a few days in advanced during whale shark season (mid-March to August) because they’ll be very busy and you do not want to miss out on this.
Their big, spotty, colourful bus will pick you up first thing in the morning and as you drive through Cape Range National Park you’ll be given the chance to introduce yourself and meet everyone else, before a rundown of how the day is going to go. Once you’re on their matching boat find a seat and claim your snorkeling gear: mask, snorkel, and fins.
Your guides will tell you everything you need to know about your swims with the whale sharks. How close you can get, where you can go, how to get the best photo and everything else you can think of. There will be a maximum of 20 guests but never more than 10 people at a time in the water with a whale shark, so they’ll split you into two groups.
When it’s your groups turn you’ll want to be ready because it all happens very fast. You’ll line up at the end of the boat with your gear on, and when the spotter plane has radioed down and the boat is in position, then it’s time to roll. The ‘bait’ (your guide) will jump in the water in front of the whale shark and then it’s your turn. It’s a bit of a panic the first time, but once your in the water you’ll get into a line and stare into the gloomy water.
Suddenly you’ll see it. A whale shark is swimming out of the darkness and straight at you. You’ll want to quickly pick a side and start swimming, swimming, swimming as hard as you can to keep up, this giant creature flicks his powerful tail so slowly but moves so fast. Before you know it he’s fading back into the darkness and you’re stoked because you’ve just swum alongside the largest fish in the world.
Each group got to swim with 3 different whale sharks on 3 different occasions, everyone got a photo and everyone got to see it in all its glory. You also have the opportunity to snorkel in the afternoon along a shallow part of the Ningaloo Reef, or you can go for a quick scuba dive if you’re certified, so make sure you bring your PADI or SSI card.
Even after all the excitement the day still wasn’t over; we got to chill on the boat, have lunch and then take to the seas in search of other marine life. We saw a pod of dolphins who played in the wake of the boat and we were lucky enough to see two humpback whales breaching.
Back on the mainland, we were driven to our hotels and campsites with huge smiles on our faces, answering questions about our day and getting candy in return, watching the sunset out to the west as we drove back through Cape Range National Park.
I was a little apprehensive about the cost, $390 per person, but at the end of the day, I realised it’s worth every cent. It’s a full 8-hour adventure from the hotel to the boat and back, swimming with giant sharks, whale watching and snorkeling. I wholeheartedly recommend this experience, especially with Ningaloo Whale Sharks and their amazing crew. Do it, do it, do it!
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