Day 66: 3 August – Whale Sharks!!!

Author: Mr A

From: Exmouth Cape Caravan Park

To: Somewhere out beyond Ningaloo in the big blue

Distance: Quite a few bumpy kms in a boat

Well the day dawned when we would find out if whale sharks would grace us with their majestic presence in the UNESCO World Heritage area of the Ningaloo Coast. We were shipped out by mini bus to transfer to a little ferry and then onto our home for the day – a quite lovely cataraman. 

It was pretty nippy first thing (17 degrees) with a wind chill out on the water from a fresh breeze, and climbing into wet suits was done with some tripidation. We had a very good briefing on the code of conduct for whale shark snorkelling  – basically don’t get in its way – they will tend to dive and we’ll lose them. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this stunningly graceful fish (yes  – not mammal) they are called a ‘whale’ shark becuase of their size, growing up to 18 metres, and commonly seen around 6 to 8 metres here. A local doctor in Exmouth first noticed them hanging around in the 1980s and the book he wrote about his observations of them was the stimulus for the tourist industry that has now grown up around them. The coral here spawns stuff that the krill they feed on likes…and by the way it’s not a bad place to hang out if you’re dining for free. Turquoise waters, the longest fringing reef in the world, and lots of grey nomads to show off to. 

So in the water we went for a ‘Lets make sure you can snorkel’ session, inside the reef. I managed to remember which way up the mask goes, Catherine on the other hand was provided with a leaky snorkel (more like a straw than something you can breathe through!). So after a bit of equipment juggling we were sorted and ready to hit the open ocean. 

We all sat around shivering (except the really overweight people – very politically incorrect I know) and watching humpback whales splashing their tails in the water, until the spotter plane flying circles overhead (I know – pretty cool ay) finally located a grey shadow under the water. Full throttle, we were soon off racing over the waves, stomachs lagging a little behind, then pulled up ready for the “Go, go, go” signal! Mrs A, looking fetching as ever, I must say, in rubber, was slightly ahead of me I think (well I did land on something soft before hitting the water), and we were in hot pursuit.

Now what the whale shark was thinking at this point I can only imagine…’Bloody hell, here they come’ is my best guess. But we had strict instructions to keep at least 3 metres off its flippery bits (anatomical terms here you know). This particular whale shark had obviously had its fill of being gawked at and promptly set off the ‘Dive, dive, dive’ bell after about 10 seconds (potentially encouraged by the annoying bloke holding the Go-Pro in its face – not me!).

Ah well, back we went to the boat. Now came the tricky bit…..getting back on the bit at the back which was rising and falling like the Venezuelan bolívar. Catherine of course sprang up like the sprightly young thing that she is….let’s just say that my exit was….different. 

More hanging around and shivering…then…we’re off again..another…hopefully more obliging beast has been spotted. In we go, and…yes…this whale shark clearly was seeking fame and glory on Facebook. He (determined by a crew member who swam underneath it with a camera) just ambled along just under the surface of the water, cruising at the perfect speed for us to kick like crazy and keep up.

What a stunning sight. They are so beautifully marked with spots, each one sporting a uniquely identifiable cluster of markings. I think he winked at Catherine. All too quickly it was time to get back on the boat. Catherine again springs up likes she’s got a submersible pogo stick. I…well I…I get onto the deck, put it like that. You know you these terrible clips of whales getting beached. Well..something like that. 

More shivering…I had mixed feelings about how good I wanted the spotter’s eyesight to be…but we got the signal “Tallyho!”. In the water I sprinted ahead, feet thrashing (I’m surprised there wasn’t a tsunami alert issued), and get right alongside this chappie. The swim seemed to go on for ages..I spotted Catherine kicking like a mad thing (a very elegant mad thing of course), and then we were together with this magnificent creature. 

A great experience, and delivered very sensitively (I think) to not encroach on the whale shark’s personal space. Another dream convereted to a memory. Just wish our friends Jenny and David could have got lucky when they did it. There are no guarantees when it comes to wild creatures. 

So we’re off for fish and chips to celebrate (is the fish bit wrong?)… It wont be a late one tonight! 

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