When is the best time to see Whale Sharks on the Ningaloo Reef?

Typically the Whale Shark season starts at the beginning of March till the end of July.  However, when dealing with wildlife you never know. The first whale shark swims on the Ningaloo Reef in Coral Bay surprised our customers on Monday 30th January 2017.  We were the only operator with the golden license on the waters. Needless to say, there were many bright happy smiles that day!

The official Whale Shark season starts when the operator provides a high probability of facilitating an in-water swim with the Whale Shark. At the end of February and early March, our spotter plane and pilot, Ningaloo Reef Air will start on reconnaissance missions to assess their location. We will test the waters and after repetitive successful days of sightings, we will formally cut the pink ribbons and oFISHially declare open season.  

When booking your Whale Shark encounter tour I would advise asking your operator how successful sightings have been and where they have been found.  Some operators may get too excited and prematurely call too early. At Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel we endeavour to give you the best chance of swimming with the whale sharks. We understand it is a considerable investment in your time and money and we will use all our means possible to facilitate a swim that leaves you speechless.

It is no surprise to residents of Coral Bay that the Whale Sharks of Ningaloo have been seen every month of the year in Coral Bay waters. Some key characteristics that make the large aggregation of Whale Sharks favourable include currents, upwellings of nutrient-rich water, a water temperature of between 21 and 30 degrees with the preferred temperature around 27 degrees, food pulses and areas of high productivity and proximity to deep water. These characteristics are present all year round on the Ningaloo.

Whaleshark swimming in Coral Bay
Whale Shark front on in Coral Bay Western Australia
Whale Shark in Coral Bay, Western Australia
Whaleshark and humans swimming side by side with Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel
Whaleshark and humans swimming side by side with Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel
Whaleshark and humans swimming side by side with Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel

Why such a large aggregation in March of Whale Sharks?

During March with the full moon, a mass coral spawning event of more than 200 species spawn their brightly coloured polyps. The mass spawning event attracts masses of zooplankton, a fancy scientific word that is a name given to small organisms that drift in the water feeding on the spawn. The zooplankton includes krill and small crustaceans known as copepods that swarm the reef during the spawn.

The favourite food for the Whale Sharks on the Ningaloo is the krill and copepods. Whilst these fellas and lasses are swarming the reef, we have the food chain supplying sustenance for our bigger fish, the Whale Shark. The Whale Sharks of the Ningaloo reef will scan the body of water and filter feed on all the microscopic animal organisms that swim weakly in its column.  

You are literally witnessing the food chain in action! Not only swimming with the ocean’s largest fish but also its smallest.

We also believe the Whale Sharks visit Coral Bay for leisure, just like the migration of tourists that come out for that once in a lifetime encounter. They come in nice and close to mingle with travellers from all over the world and see what new styles are in season this year.

How do we know what Whale Sharks eat?

Scientists can see what Whale Sharks are feeding on by examining their pool! However, it is quite hard to catch Whale Shark poo when swimming. I guarantee your Whale Shark swimmer guide will not be carrying a bag to pick up any deposits in the water column. Instead, they will be ensuring that you have the best vantage point possible for your interaction.

Should I choose to make Whale Shark experience in Coral Bay or Exmouth?

Both towns are the epicentre for Whale Shark tourism in Australia. The Ningaloo Marine Park stretches approximately 300km from Red Bluff around the top of the North-West Cape to Bundegi Beach in Exmouth Gulf. In Coral Bay, you are quite literally in the heart of the Ningaloo Reef, only 140Km South of Exmouth. With less than a handful of operators in Coral Bay, the Ningaloo waters remain pristine and often each boat has its own individual whale shark to interact with.

Traditionally the Whale Shark season in Coral Bay gets underway earlier than in Exmouth as sharks are found further South. Research has shown a trend of the whale sharks generally migrating North as the Exmouth whale shark season extends into August. 

Where do Whale Sharks go?

The Department of Parks & Wildlife collaborates with researchers that use satellite tags to determine where they spend most of their time and where they go when they leave. Every Shark is different but some locations are well known from Christmas Island to Indonesia and far far away in the open ocean. Some Whale Sharks do not go very far, as on those special occasions we find them at any time of the year in Coral Bay. More research is needed so that we can protect these Sharks wherever they travel. If we can prove that the Whale Sharks are from Australian waters, hopefully, we can expand their protection to other countries where regulations and guidelines of interaction are more evasive. The Ningaloo Reef represents the global standard for in water interactions with large fish and now mammals.  

Ningaloo Reef Dive & Snorkel strictly observes the no touch or take protocol on the Ningaloo Reef. Only leave memories. Interactions with wildlife and rules of engagement are determined by the wildlife. We do everything we can to provide you with the opportunity for the best vantage point that is a safe and fair distance for the best-preserved wildlife in Australia.   

The reliable aggregation of Whale Sharks at Ningaloo is one of the main reasons why the Ningaloo Coast is now a World Heritage Area!
When you book your Whale Shark tour, a slice of your money goes towards the conservation efforts to protect the Whale Sharks.

Thanks for reading!