Swimming with whale sharks on Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef is one of nature’s truly awesome experiences.

Story By Terri Cowley

A group of excited swimmers sits, hanging onto the platform at the back of the speeding catamaran, as skipper Cameron Birch slices through the chop towards his quarry. He’s heard from a spotter plane that there’s an eight-metre whale shark ahead. Spot located, boat engine set to idle, lead swimmer Prue Johns is off into the water, brandishing her huge underwater camera. Within a minute Prue’s hand is up, the signal to the other crew members on board the Kai Aura that the shark’s been sighted. “Okay group one, slide into the water,” group leader Caitlin Tailor shouts. Eight people, ranging in age from nine to retirement, jump into the rough deep-blue ocean and swim towards Prue, with Caitlin protectively bringing up the rear. The sight before them is something some have waited a lifetime to see, and they aren’t disappointed.
Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the world, growing up to 18m long, and are found across the planet’s warm-temperate seas. However, seasonal feeding draws them to several coastal sites, including Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef from March until July, although dive operators are noticing this season is getting longer.
There are several whale-shark tour operators at both Coral Bay, on the southern extremity of Ningaloo, and at Exmouth, in the north. Coral Bay Ecotours runs trips daily in season, leaving at 8am and returning around 4pm. How far out you have to go to see a whale shark depends entirely on the shark. Coral spawning brings them closer to shore and occasionally they are found on the shore side of the reef.

This story excerpt is from Issue #92

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2014