Swimming with Whale Sharks in Australia

One of the things I was really looking forward to in Western Australia was the chance to swim with whale sharks. They are the biggest fish in the sea and are often called “gentle giants” due to their size (they can reach 15m!) and their calm behaviour. Unlike most other sharks that people are familiar with, whale sharks are not hunters. They are filter feeders, which means that they pass water through their enormous mouths and trap plankton and other tiny sea creatures in their filters. The only risk to humans they pose is if you get too close and get whacked by their tail or body.

In Australia, the whale shark season runs from late March to July. Tours run from Exmouth and Coral Bay in Western Australia (WA) and the reef system is called Ningaloo. Exmouth and Coral Bay are about 1200km north of Perth and can be reached by road or air. The flights are generally very expensive though so I would recommend  including Exmouth / Coral Bay as part of a road trip. The whale shark tour itself usually costs around AU$350 and includes all transfers, snorkel gear, and lunch. Sometimes professional videos or photos will be included or available for an additional fee.

The day starts with a short drive up and around the peninsula to the jetty. After a short intro from the guides, you have a quick snorkel inside the reef while the spotter plane gets ready for takeoff. The spotter plane flies over the reef in search of the sharks and radios the location to the captain when one is spotted. Once the plane is up in the air, it’s just a waiting game. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to wait long for the radio to start chirping.

Before the boat stops, the guides will tell you to get ready to jump in cause right when the boat stops, the sharks will be just a few metres away! They swim very close to the surface so there’s no need at all to dive down. It’s a really majestic experience seeing them gracefully swimming past. Some them swim extra slow and it’s possible to keep up with them for a while. The day I went, we spotted them all day long and they varied from 2-6 metres in size.

Lunch was a generous spread of bread, cold cuts, fruits, coffee, tea, juice, water, and salad. There was more than enough food for everyone. For the tour, I recommend bringing a towel, hoody, sunnies, an underwater camera, and of course your swimmers.

Have you ever swam with any big sea creatures?

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