How do you swim with a whale shark?
Ever wonder how on earth you swim with the ocean’s largest fish? Back in the day, I’m sure most people thought we were absolutely bananas. Perhaps so, but now the Ningaloo Reef is the world’s premier and leading Whale Shark industry for tourism and interactions on the blue planet. The fun, friendly and experienced crew at Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel have fine tuned the process down to a work of art. You will soon see that collaborating with large wildlife is far easier than you would expect when you have your local Whale Shark specialists.
Now let us get into the nitty gritty!
There is a huge amount of logistics that go into the operation. Many customers seem absolutely bewildered when we inform them that it is just not possible to swim out of Coral Bay and locate your own local Whale Shark. Here at Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel, we will utilise every available means possible to ensure that we provide you with the best possible interaction with wildlife that includes spotter planes and equipped vessels for powering underway that provide comfort and the best vantage point to witness the natural wonders of wildlife.
It’s like a scene out of Super Bowl Sunday. There is strategy and tactics employed to best maximise your potential to swim the Whale Shark. It all starts off with the spotter plane, Ningaloo Reef Air and pilot taking off and flying reconnaissance to see where the wildlife may be sighted. The whereabouts of the Whale Shark are communicated to the Skipper who, like the quarterback, will pass the football to his receiver for a touchdown. All the essential details are relayed to your deckie who then choreographs the play on the deck.
Every day is different on the Ningaloo Reef and you never know what the Ningaloo will bless you with. It is a huge privilege just to search for the whale sharks. Wildlife does not follow the concept of time. Despite some people’s requests, we cannot organise a specific time to rendezvous with the whale sharks. However, we will work tirelessly to ensure that we provide you with the best opportunity to successfully swim with a whale shark.
By now you will have signed in at the shop in Coral Bay, gear bag packed with wetsuit and fins and mask and snorkel on the boat. You are introduced to your skipper, deckhand, mascot and vessel for adventure for the day: Encounter.
We start things off with a light pleasant snorkel swim amongst the fishes and coral species of the Ningaloo Reef. The morning snorkel is a chance to ensure that you are comfortable in your equipment and seek advice from our friendly, fun and experienced snorkel guides. We want you to check that your masks are fitting and not leaking with water, not fogging up on you whilst swimming amongst the weird and wonderful fish life. Take the time now to test and trial your equipment as you definitely do not want it disappointing for the headline act.
Furthermore, we prepare for the live drop with the Whale Shark by replicating like conditions during your initial snorkel swim of the day. It’s always better to have a dress rehearsal before the main event to be prepared. This allows you to visualise what you are doing so that when the time comes you can rely on your training and seek one of the best moments that you can ever fathom in your life.
Moreover, we practise exit and entry procedures off the boat and the best way to return safely. Whale Sharks are typically found in deeper water on the outer reef of the Ningaloo. The entry into the water and to the boat can be active and physically demanding. For this reason, the pre-warm up snorkel prepares all customers with the giant step water entry in and return entry to the platform. We do have a ladder for customers that would prefer so should you have any concerns just let the crew quietly know and were happy to assist.
The Ningaloo Whale Shark industry has had codes of conduct in place supported by legislation since 1993. These rules are designed to give people a great in-water experience but also ensure the wellbeing of the whale shark. The welfare of the Whale Shark is of utmost importance to the crew and operator. The interaction must adhere to the proper guidelines to ensure their safety and remain hassle free from impeding the natural migration and path of nature.
It’s the world cup final and it’s imperative that you listen to your crew and team, particularly the briefing from the deckhand. We have to be quick but quiet. Stealth but not slow. Alert and aware of the direction of the Whale Shark. Patient, calm and composed even when your heart is beating as fast as Usain Bolt in the 100m. Our captain will position the vessel in the contact zone ahead of the predicted path of the Whale Shark. When in position we will drop in our photographer to confirm a visual. Hand raised directing the boat to its direction we will now invite our customers with their swimming guide to enter the water.
The entry into the water is most important. It’s like the bombslay race in the Winter Olympics. Do you remember the classic movie ‘Cool Runnings’ released in 1993, when a Jamaican sprinter is disqualified from the Olympic Games, he enlists the help of a dishonoured coach to start the first Jamaican Bobsled Team ever…
‘Feel the rhythm, feel the ride, get on down its WHALE SHARK time!’
The entry will often determine the nature of the interaction. Just like the Jamaican boys start when racing down the alpine slide, we need to be streamlined and coordinated in our approach to the Whale Shark.
Let the shark come to you!! Stay behind your swimmer and guide.
You must now make one of the most important decisions of your life. Whether to swim to the left or right. The Whale Shark is coming. Listen and be aware of your swimmer’s directions as we must ensure that we do not impede the natural swimming movement of the shark From the side of its pectoral fin we can best view and swim alongside mother nature’s largest fish in the ocean.
The large aggregation of whale sharks have advised the industry their preferable method of interaction. As much as they love to swim with the human beings of earth in the ocean they like to have their own personal space. We must respect their wishes and so kindly advise all swimming participants no closer than 3m from the body of the whale shark and 4m away from its tail.
We discourage people from duck diving down as the whale sharks of Ningaloo are gentle giants and sensitive to any significant disturbance from the surface. The whale shark can dive to record depths of up to 1500 metres and beyond. And we only know that because the satellite tags cannot record deeper. When a whale shark sees a human being dive down they will also dive down. A whale shark on the surface is far better than one at depth. To maximise your swim stay on the surface.
Moreover try to swim with all your fin thrusting through the body of water to maximise your power. This can be best done by swimming one your side as you kick from the body with long parallel strides. You also avoid making any disturbance on the surface from unwanted splashing that can spook our spotty friend. When you swim on your belly you often lift your fin and foot out of the water and thrust the air. Whilst wasting a lot of energy, burning lots of calories, you will not go too far as only half of your thrust hits the surface area of the water column.
A HUGE important point is to make sure you are looking at the first 5 metres of the water column. When we tell you to look down now, look down now! The Whale Shark will not be out of the water today or any other day. They often are found in the shallow first 5 metres of the water column. For this reason we need you to look from the sea surface along your line of sight and scan the body of water. The Whale Shark may be deeper and if so we will direct you to look straight down. However most commonly they will be swimming along and we do not wish you to be blissfully unawares of the ocean’s largest fish swimming straight past you as your line of sight is directed to the wrong direction. Blooper alert!!
By following the rules and advice from your guides, you can be sure that the whale shark enjoys the swim just as much as you! And hopefully that means he or she will continue to come to Ningaloo for many years to come.
Remember, swimmers must not interfere with or alter the natural movements of the whale shark. We must not impede its natural migratory path. Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel strictly adheres to the no touch or take policy. Leave only lasting memories.
Thanks for reading once again!!