One of the highlights of our trip was to treat ourselves to a day snorkelling with the Whale sharks. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the ocean with adults measured up to 18m long. They are filter feeders, feeding primarily on plankton and small fish so there was no danger of being swallowed!
Ningaloo reef hosts an annual aggregation of these magnificent animals, from March through to September. Surprisingly little is known about them, where they go, where they breed, but most of those arriving at Ningaloo are males. Tagging and photo-identification initiatives as slowly yielding more information but there is still lots to discover.
Ningaloo Blue had already been very accommodating with us re-booking dates, then again when the cyclone hit so when the day finally arrived we were a little apprehensive as the Bureau of Meteorology had issued severe wind warnings for the Ningaloo Coast. It was very windy!
Their bus took us to the marina on the west side of the peninsula, where a tender ferried us out to the boat, Venture IV. Skipper Brad, guides Amy, Naomi, deckhand Woody, and photographer Ester all provided a professional service, from safety briefings to the whale shark and snorkelling briefings.
Whilst we waited for the spotter planes to take to the air we had a snorkel off Mangrove Bay to test our gear out. The choppy water was filling snorkels and masks and very soon a few folk on board were discouraged from the prospect of snorkelling on the outside of the reef in these conditions. The first shark was spotted soon and we were off through the south passage to the open ocean.
Ten people entered the water at a time and the first sighting was barely a glimpse of the tail disappearing beyond the mayhem of bubbles and fins of everyone else. Hannah and Xavier managed to get a great look however, and for most the concerns about the conditions evaporated with the excitement of their first sighting.
The boat moved into clearer water to follow another shark and Amy and Naomi’s enthusiasm managed to coax the most reticent passengers to jump in again to experience the sharks. Even Oscar overcame his fear of the deep blue water to jump in and his face transformed into elation when Amy got him into the perfect viewing position.
Swimming side by side, 3m from an 8m whale shark is an unforgettable thrill. While it glides through the water with gentle tail flicks, shadows from the waves above flicker in the sunlight across the vertical stripes and spot markings on its back. As they gracefully move through the water, the humans, with their fins are kicking wildly to keep up.
The larger sharks were accompanied by remoras that attach themselves to the shark’s sides, and schools of juvenile trevally lead in front of the wide mouth.
On top of all this food and drinks were provided all day, a delicious lunch before the afternoon snorkel back in the lagoon, and finally a glass of bubbly (lemonade for the kids) and strawberry to finish the day off.
Every day is a different experience, and when I returned two days later we had beautifully calm conditions. Whilst we had less time with the sharks we did see a lot more. My highlight was the six dugongs, but there were turtles, a sea snake, a large estuary cod, a tiger shark, and a bronze whaler shark even swam up from the depths to check one group out. A manta ray and Indo-humpback dolphins swam past the boat and to top things off we had bottlenose dolphins repeatedly playing in the bow-wave of the boat on the return to the boat ramp. It was so fun we did several circuits!
Full marks from Fifty Toes goes to Ningaloo Blue for our unforgettable experience. Hannah will be back begging for a work experience job with them.