Exmouth, Whale Shark Swim

Whale sharks appear on Ningaloo Reef from March to the end of July each year.

Whale Shark & Swimmers

Every year, whale sharks, the world’s largest known fish, make their way to the peaceful waters off the coast of Exmouth in their quest for food. Ningaloo Reef’s remarkable eco-system attracts hundreds of whale sharks with its abundance of naturally-occurring food that starts with the annual spawning of coral in March, and continues with the upwelling of nutrient-rich waters from the continental shelf that lies beneath Ningaloo. With plankton drifting closer to the surface, whale sharks gather en masse at Ningaloo to take advantage of easy, abundant feeding. While whale sharks can grow to an impressive 15 meters in length, and have a mouth almost 1.5 meters wide, they pose no danger to humans. They are calm, slow moving, naturally curious fish that are undisturbed by snorkellers swimming in close proximity.Exmouth Dive & Whale Sharks

A bus picks guests up from their accommodation on North West Cape to ferry them to and from the jetty. The day was so still, no wind or swell, the ocean looked like glass.

Tantabiddi Boat Ramp & Jetty

After boarding the boat we first went for a snorkel, perhaps for the crew to assess the abilities of their guests, and to practice lining up in the water ready for a whale shark.

A professional photographer, Albert, was on board as well as two marine biologists, which made the experience much more fun and very informative. The photos below are by Albert.

How it works

Each tour company has a spotter plan that locates a whale shark for the boat.

The 20 guests are divided into two groups, each group has a crew member as a guide.

Using jelly babies and toy whale shark, guests are educated on how to line up in the water ready for the whale shark to swim past.

Group one gets ready to jump in. You have to be fast or the whale shark will be gone.

The guide gets in first and points their arm so we know which way to line up.

Lining up for the whale shark

One minute you’ve got your head in the water peering down into the abyss of deep ocean and the next thing a wall of blue and white spots blocks out every thing else. Its hard to tell what you’re looking at until you notice a fin or eye, because the size is so encompassing. It is disorientating and truely remarkable. 

Once you are in line with the pectoral fin you can start swimming beside the whale shark. Most sharks on Ningaloo are juvenile males, only about 9 metres. Adults can reach 16 metres.

The following pics are from Albert.

Because whale sharks swim faster than people, once it is out of view the guide yells STOP SWIMMING. And the boat comes around and picks up that group. Meanwhile, the secound group has been tossed into the ocean infront of the whale shark ready to swim beside it. So it’s a bit like playing tag. We did six swims beside two different whale sharks. So amazing, also quite exhausting. With no stairs to get back on board, it was a matter of doing a ‘seal jump’ onto the backboard and very ungraciously, belly crawling out of the water. Better than any gym workout.

If the whale shark dives away, the spotter plan will locate another whale shark. While getting ready to head back to the jetty, the spotter plan saw a pod of orcas, so we headed out to take a look, along with every other boat in the vicinity . About 15 boats in all, some just little tinnies, some tour boats with EVERY guest on the bow of the boat.

We also spotted a sea snake, about a metre long.

During the day we saw whale sharks, orcas, sea snakes and dolphins, plus beautiful coral and reef fish. Such an amazing day.

We also went on this tour in 2019 you can see our blog here. Whale Shark swim 2019

Cheers til next time, Helen & Tim