While I appreciate that this post is neither about scuba diving, nor is it in Perth, WA, for the next few days I am on a trip to Exmouth to explore the delights of the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef.
Today was booked as a Whale Shark swimming experience, but as they haven’t seen Whale Sharks here for over two weeks, the season is now pretty much over. Two years ago, the Western Australian Government started allowing licensed Whale Shark Swim companies to extend the season by offering the oportunity to swim with the Humpback Whales. The Humpback Whales start their southerly migration and head for Antartica a month or so later than the Whale Sharks. The program is experimental at this stage and while the engagement rules are clearly defined by the department, the reality of swimming with them is yet to be perfected (as we learned today).
Having been picked up from Exmouth, we headed over to the Western side of the spit where Ningaloo Reef winds it’s way down to Coral Bay in the South. In the Jurabi Coastal Park is the Tantabiddi Boat Ramp which is where all the Whale Shark boats go out from into the Ningaloo Reef.
First stop was an orientation snorkel, to the North of the boat ramp and on the outer side of the reef.
Then back on the boat to follow the Humpback Whales that had already been spotted by the spotter planes to the North of our snorkeling site.
It wasn’t long before we saw the distinctive spouts of the Humpbacks and then we kept watch as they headed along in front of our boat, spouting and breaching every few minutes.
Then we got ready to go in. The skipper brought the boat around so that we were in their path and we slid into the water off the back of the boat. With visibility at about 25m and the whales probably 50m away,we couldn’t see anything except for the blue water! Duck your head under water though and you could hear them as loud as if they were right on top of us. After swimming for a few minutes, the skipper signalled us backon board as they had dived and gone right past.
We had three more goes with a similar experience and then when we were just about to get back up the steps from the marlin board at the back of the boat, the yell came out that we were going in again for another try.
This time we finned out quickly in the direction we were being pointed in by the guys left on the boat. We could hear the sound just getting louder and louder and then a low vibration that went straight through you. There it was! Right in front of us, nose down to the sandy bottom with it’s fluke coming back up to only about 5m below the surface.
The Humpback then levelled out at the bottom and swam straight underneath us.
It was then our turn to spot on the boat while the others had a go at swimming. After about five goes without any luck, we started to head back home. Then just as we had about given up, we saw a pod of four Whales heading across in front of the boat. Having tired out the other group they called out for two more people to join them so I grabbed the camera and jumped in as well. I was lucky enough to experience another encouter with these majestic creatures. This one was quite a bit bigger (and louder) than the one earlier and quite a bit deeper. As the whale past beneath us, it turned on it’s side as if to see what we were doing, invading it’s world. Unfortunately, it was all to quick to get any photographic evidence second time around. I need to get myself that mask mounted Go-Pro that I have been coveting.
To cap it off, after lunch, we took to the water again to do a drift snorkel over a patch of shallow reef.
Just to complete the experience we saw this turtle as we floated along!
Tomorrow I head out onto the Ningaloo Reef to do a double dive with http://diveningaloo.com.au/. See you then…