Swimming with Whalesharks at Ningaloo Reef

The original instigation point for our big caravanning trip had been to fulfil Karen’s dream of swimming with the whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef. So to make sure this happened I booked Karen this adventure for a 60th birthday present for when we would be in Exmouth. We made a booking with Ningaloo Discovery who run whale shark swimming trips on their catamaran during the ‘season’.

After an early breakfast we were picked up at the RAC Exmouth Holiday Park in their bus. Along the way we collected a few more people and then drove up and around to the ocean side of Cape Range National Park. After disembarking the bus

we were taken out to the catamaran.

Once on board we met the crew and listened to a briefing from the three marine biologists. There was a spotter plane searching for whale sharks and once located the catamaran would move to that area. Boats could only get within a certain distance of any whale sharks in their zone and swimmers had to be about five metres away, not that the whale sharks know that, so you could be lucky. They did warn that the water was going to be a bit choppy but that they had lots of aids to assist the swimmers. Out of the twenty on board 17 would be aiming to swim. As I’m not a strong swimmer I was happy to take photos of Karen’s special day from the catamaran. Next it was a matter of gearing up into wetsuits and putting on masks and snorkels. First up all the swimmers did a practice swim with their gear.

Soon after returning to the catamaran the captain received a radio call and off we went. The swimmers were split into two smaller groups, each with a marine biologist. On reaching the zone in they went.

One of the marine biologists (also the photographer) would go in first and locate the whale sharks. He would raise his arm to show where the group should aim to swim to and place themselves in a good position to observe the whaleshark as it swam by.

As you can see you don’t get much of a view from the boat – just a black blob going by! However the swimmers get this view, which the photographer shot and uploaded to their website for paying customers to download. After each whaleshark the swimmers return to the boat for a rest.

To recharge the energy levels drinks and food was served a number of times.

At one point I was lucky not to be in the water and witness a baby hammerhead shark swam by.

Ningaloo Discovery had another boat in the area as did some of the opposition companies.

During the morning Karen and most of the other swimmers went back in four times to see the whalesharks. Each time though, less people went back in as the waves were quite high and all the swimming in the ocean becomes tiring. If you aren’t quick enough then this is the view you may get of the whaleshark.
However there were other things to be seen.Pleasingly, the photographer managed to shoot every swimmer. Karen is the one on the right in this shot.This is a happy but worn out wife!Late lunch was served after the fifth and final swim. That was a good thing as the waves picked up during the afternoon which would have made it difficult to swim out to see any more whalesharks.

During the afternoon we were able to relax on the deck. A couple of times humpback whales were spotted in the distance but were difficult to snap. The afternoon ended with a group photo and a glass of bubbly.

Back at the wharf we were transferred to land again on the small zodiac boats. From an onlookers point of view it seemed an amazing day. As for the birthday girl “it was a memorable, wonderful (but tiring) experience”.

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