Swimming with Whale sharks!
Trip Start Sep 14, 2009
78Trip End Aug 16, 2010
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Where I stayed
Exmouth is at the northern tip of the Ningaloo reef that stretches some 300km down past Coral Bay to Carnarvon. Our two main objectives were to obviously scuba dive but also to see the whale sharks that come to the area for feeding between March and August. As there are no rivers in the region, the reef is very protected and has an abundance of coral and sea life. Both activities are pretty expensive due to the fact that you are hundreds of kilometres from anywhere and you don’t have much other option.
There is an old US naval submarine base which was the original reason for why the town exists and they built a docking pier off the coast to receive supply vessels that is now reputed to be one of the world’s best dive sites. Liz had been nursing a hugely painful middle ear infection and was gutted that she would be unable to do the dive, so that left myself, Issy and Ady to sign up with Ningaloo Reef Dreaming for an afternoon dive. The pre-dive briefing was very comprehensive and I was beginning to get a little nervous for the kids as this was to be their first dive since qualifying in the calm bath like waters around Bali
We drove the bus onto the pier and started to get the diving kit sorted. The sea was pretty choppy and looking down the 15 metre drop, I could sense the nervousness in the children. This was compounded with the knowledge that we had to enter the water with all the heavy scuba kit on via a stride jump from 3 metres up. I could feel my vertigo coming on as well. Fortunately a dive instructor named Jimmy said he would take us three down
Not content with seeing this in daylight, I had also signed up to a night dive and returned there with Ady to encourage me at 7.30 pm
As if this excitement wasn’t enough, the following day we had signed up to go hunting whale sharks so that we could jump in and swim with them. At 7.15am we were met by a bright orange bus driven by our tour leader for the day, Westy from New Zealand. Immediately his enthusiasm and information about the whale sharks had us brimming with anticipation. It is believed that the whale sharks come to Ningaloo to feed off the plankton after the coral spawns in March and April and stay there for a couple of months. We were a bit worried that the trip would be cancelled as the wind had picked up overnight and Westy our tour guide let us know that all the other operators had decided not to go. “Wimps” was his view on them “It’ll be right on the other side of the peninsula” he said, “might be a bit choppy but hey we’ll have a competition as to who can chunder the furthest over the side and we want to go whale shark swimming – don’t we?” he screamed
He was great fun and explained that we know very little about these huge sea creatures. They can grow to around 18/20 metres and are very solitary, immediately being alone after birth. They are 25 to 30 cm when born and grow in eggs inside the mother before hatching inside her too and about 200 are jettisoned into the ocean with a survival rate of 1-2%. They take 30 years to reach sexual maturity and only eat plankton although they do have very small teeth that act as grinders rather than gnashers. They are a slate blue with a wonderful speckled body of light grey and white spots. The equally bouncy rest of the crew got us underway and we got into the water to do some snorkelling and to prove that we could swim sufficiently well to not be a safety hazard. After half an hour we started out to the other side of the reef to start the search. This is done by a spotter plane that combs the ocean from above and then radios back the coordinates to the skipper who then lines up a hundred metres or so in front of the whale shark’s swimming path. At this point you are split into two teams and your leader jumps in to spot the whale shark in the water before you are then given the OK to jump in and swim towards them. You must keep 3 to 4 metres away from the shark and can only swim along side with absolutely no touching allowed as this can seriously damage the skin
The fact that we were the only boat out there that day meant that we saw 12 whale sharks and a baby all to ourselves and Westy was equally delighted that it was the best day of the season – “by far, AWESOME MAN!” It was awesome and we all learned the sign of approval, your fist clenched with your little finger and thumb sticking outstretched, awesome man
On the way back down to Perth we stopped off for two nights at Monkey Mia where we had a wonderful time watching dolphins come literally up to the shore line for feeding by the rangers. There are around about 15 of them but only 5 are fed about twenty percent of their daily requirement to ensure that they maintain their natural hunting instinct. It is a well controlled environment and you are not allowed to touch the dolphins because humans can easily pass on disease to these mammals by touch. It was a lovely environment and we spent a lazy day on the beach whilst the children went off canoeing and on the pedalo.
We visited the Stromatolites at Hamelin Bay which were amazing and another educational lesson for us all. The shell beach was wonderful to see and is literally a beach made of shells. It has every size, shape and colour of shells.
A long twelve hour drive got us back to Jude and Marks in Perth and saw the end of our great adventure in the Western Outback.