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The Whale Shark is the largest fish in all of the world’s oceans. Here on the Ningaloo Reef, it’s what we’re famous for. Every year from March to August, Ningaloo has one of the most reliable aggregations of Whale Sharks anywhere in the world gathering here to feed. These large filter feeders congregate in the plankton rich waters for a feeding event that is triggered every year by the coral spawn in March and April. Scientists estimate numbers of Whale Sharks during the season to be as many as 500 to 800 animals.

These gentle giants usually start to disappear around August, but this year we have been lucky enough to continue seeing them right through September. Humpback Whales are here in numbers from June to October, and Manta Rays are found year-round in Ningaloo waters. This is the time of year we are doing our Humpback Whale swim tours and whale watching, so it is quite a bonus when we are out there and a Whale Shark shows up!

It was out on one of our Humpback Whale swim tours recently that our lucky guests and crew were able to swim with two different Whale Sharks in addition to the Humpbacks we were hoping to see (and even a Manta Ray as well!). The day started out like any other tour, where we do a snorkel first thing in the morning on a beautiful pristine coral reef. This is conducted to assess the abilities of our guests, as well as to make sure their snorkel equipment fits them and works properly, and to make sure everyone is comfortable in the water. We also take this opportunity to check out the amazing coral reef and the beautiful animals swimming around down there!

After our morning snorkel, as we were looking for suitable Humpback Whales for possible in-water interactions, our pilot in the spotter plane overhead called me on the radio to say that there was a Whale Shark nearby. Before long, our excited guests found themselves swimming along next to a majestic 7 meter Whale Shark!

These large animals are quite placid and harmless and are generally not bothered at all by the presence of our swimmers as they swim along right next to them. The first time you see a Whale Shark up close is always a breathtaking experience and for most people it is a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true never to be forgotten.

The next thing that happened was really the highlight of the day and probably such a rare occurrence that it was probably one of the highlights of the whole season! As the groups were swimming with the Whale Shark, our pilot informed me that a pod of 3 Humpbacks had been spotted and were heading right towards our group of swimmers with the Whale Shark!

The whales swam straight past our lucky group and they all saw whales and a Whale Shark at the same time! This never happens! They were so shocked and amazed that many of them were speechless after we picked them up and got them back on the boat!!

As this was taking place, our spotter pilot had found another pod of Humpbacks not too far away. We finished our Whale Shark/Humpback swim after a 25 minute interaction, and headed over to where the other whales were to attempt a swim with them too! The water was quite clear and these whales were travelling close to the back of the reef in the shallows. This made for great interactions, and we ended up having six different swims, rotating two groups of guests so that everyone was able to view the whales several times in the crystal clear waters.

Then ANOTHER Whale Shark popped up! We weren’t going to pass up the opportunity to swim with another one of these awe inspiring creatures, and this one was nearly 8 meters long!! The spotter plane guided us over to the giant shark, and put us in position in front of it’s pathway. As we dropped our first group of guests accompanied by a guide and professional photographer, the second group prepared themselves for their turn.

We only ever put small groups of people in the water at one time so the animal is not disturbed too much and the interaction is more intimate for the guests. The groups are rotated so that everyone gets a rest in between swims and this way we maximize the opportunities for good experiences for everybody. We carried on like this for nearly an hour until our guests were tired out but very satisfied and excited! We left the biggest fish in the sea to go on about it’s business swimming away slowly along the surface.

Just to top it all off, we found a Manta Ray cruising in the shallows on our way back in to the inner lagoon! Quickly getting ready, our crew briefed the thrilled guests about procedures for swimming with these graceful and intelligent rays. A quick swim with the Manta Ray finished off our perfect day on the Ningaloo Reef!

A day like this is considered “The Holy Grail” in the Ningaloo Marine Park! If we can see Humpbacks, Whale Sharks, and Manta Rays all on one tour on one day (and even seeing them all underwater) we call that “the big 3”! It just shows what an amazing place the Ningaloo Reef really is and why we are famous for mega fauna – all the big stuff! Why don’t you come and join us at Aussie Marine Adventures and see all these amazing animals for yourself? Contact us to plan your trip to Ningaloo at the best time that suits your schedule and ask about discounts on advertised rates.

Underwater photos courtesy of Sara Barbieri.

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