Swimming with whale sharks in Western Australia is one of those unforgettable experiences that you must do at least once in your lifetime. It is impossible to comprehend their size until you are in the water next to them.
These gentle giants are the largest fish in the world, and although their mouths have a diameter of up to 1.5 meters, they only eat plankton and other small plants and animals. The official recorded length for a whale shark is 12.2 meters long, but unofficial sightings have recorded lengths over 14 meters. Not much is known about their breeding habits or their lifespan but it is estimated they may live up to 150 years.
Where Can You Dive
The Ningaloo Reef region is one of the few places in the world where whale sharks are known to frequent. Tours run from Exmouth and Coral Bay and these areas draw visitors in from all over the world for this unique wildlife encounter. The tours run from mid-March to the end of July, when the sharks are following the annual spawning of coral up the reef. Although the tours focus on the whale sharks there is also a huge variety of rays, turtles, dolphins and other whales to be found in the water and they do a nice job of instructing people about the risks of diving with sharks and whales.
Ningaloo Reef is over 12 hours’ drive from Perth, but with so much to see and do on the way, a great way to experience the west coast of Australia is to travel in a campervan. Mighty Campers have affordable campervans that are ideal for the long drive north. Pick up a campervan like the Deuce which sleeps two and has a toilet, shower and kitchenette for just $840AUD for 10 days hire.
Whale shark tours
Exmouth has eight companies that run the Whale Shark dives including Exmouth Dive Centre and King’s Ningaloo Reef Tours, while Coral bay only has two: Coral Bay Eco Tours and Ningaloo Reef Dive.
All the tour companies have a ‘No Sighting’ policy, which means if you do not see a whale shark on your dive, you can go on the next available day for free.
Most tours offer return transfers from your accommodation, as well as lunch, drinks and all snorkelling gear, including wetsuits upon request.
In general, most of the tour companies in Western Australia usually follow the same general tour structure. You’ll start the day getting fitted with wetsuits and snorkelling gear and then given a group lesson on what to do during the dive. You will then have an opportunity to test your equipment with a short snorkel or dive. Then the wait begins. Once a whale shark appears from the deep, the signal is given and the boat will head over to the sighting area where you can dive right in.
Most tours have a photographer on board ensuring you capture every moment of this incredible experience. If time and season permits you can have a chance to swim with manta rays (from late May), or watch the migrating humpback whales from the boat (from late June), the best time to see whale sharks in Western Australia.
On average the day will cost you anywhere from $360AUD depending on the company, and the price will increase depending on the features of the dive and if you want a video or photography on the day.
It may seem that as soon as a whale shark is spotted pandemonium sets in as all tours rush to the spot. This is not the case. The tour companies must adhere to strict rules when diving with whale sharks in Western Australia. These rules are closely regulated by the Department of Environment and Conservation and include limiting the length of time people are allowed to dive, the number of divers at any one time and how close you can be to a whale shark.
Many of these rules were drawn up by the tour companies themselves. Indeed, they are the often them most vocal campaigners for the conservation of the whale shark’s natural habitat and most tours believe in educating divers on the importance of the whale shark in the local ecosystem. Whichever company you choose, you are sure to have an incredible experience that will stay with you for years to come.