The coast of Western Australia harbours a stunning treasure—the largest fringing reef on the planet that’s nestled right up to a continent.
In fact, Ningaloo Reef in Exmouth is so close to the shore that in many places it’s a matter of stepping from the beach into the water to view dazzling reef fish and charming turtles.
The Ningaloo Coast is known for many wonders, but its most famous marine visitors are the enigmatic whale sharks. Despite their name, these ‘gentle giants’ are filter feeders who swim close to the surface and gobble up masses of plankton with their gaping mouths.
Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are the largest living fish species on our planet, but little was known about them until the late 20th century. For example, we still don’t know how they reproduce, or how widespread they are.
Each shark has its own special pattern of spots, so researchers have managed to create a database—based on estimates, there are at least 8,000 whale sharks swimming around the world’s tropical waters, and possibly more.
At Ningaloo Marine Park around 300-500 whale sharks visit every year between March and July after mass spawnings of coral provide them with excellent feeding opportunities.
The unique location of the reef makes whale shark congregations easily accessible while maintaining the sustainability and integrity of this beautiful ecosystem.
During the whale shark season visitors from near and far come to experience these colossal creatures on guided swims and boat tours. Visitors to the resort town of Exmouth, WA can choose from several strictly licensed ecotourism operators for a chance to see the docile sharks up close.
Apart from whale sharks at Ningaloo’s charming beaches and reef dives you can also encounter manta rays, friendly bottlenose dolphins, and even dugongs.
With its rich marine life and diversity of habitats, Ningaloo Reef was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2011.
Last year that list was joined by a truly unique activity—swimming and interacting with humpback whales.
Western Australia boasts one of the longest whale watching seasons in the world and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) visit the coast every year during migration.
After approval from the WA government, the inaugural humpback whale swimming season took place from August to November 2016. Just like with whale shark tours, the guidelines are strict, and only five swimmers at a time are allowed near the whales.
Ningaloo Marine Park is more than a playground for marine species and the tourists who visit them—it encompasses many pristine sanctuary zones and restricted areas to allow the local wildlife to thrive for centuries to come.
This article was brought to you by Western Australia, where swimming with whale sharks is just another day in WA.