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Whale shark encounter

AUSTRALIA | Tuesday, 18 June 2013 | Views [475]

An 8m Whale Shark!! (Difficult to fit it all in a photo without being so far away that its too murky!)

An 8m Whale Shark!! (Difficult to fit it all in a photo without being so far away that its too murky!)

We've spent the last couple of days in Coral Bay - a small beachside village in Northern WA and pretty high in the running for my favourite spot in WA.  The Lonely Planet says population 190, though there's a lot more tourists than that, mostly families on a beach holiday, older people caravanning and of course some international tourists there for the whale sharks at this time of year.  The whale sharks visit from about March to July every year for the coral spawning on the Ningaloo Reef, although they're the biggest fish in the ocean they feed on the plankton that feed on the coral spawn!  

We arrived on Saturday afternoon after about 3.5 hours drive from Carnarvon, across the Tropic of Capricorn and via a detour to see some blowholes on the coast (holes in the rock that the waves force water up through to create a kind of geyser effect).  After all the rain on the Thursday/Friday there was a lot of water by the road and some across the road on the way up!  The sun was shining though and we caught another beautiful sunset on the Saturday at Coral Bay.

Sunday we got up early to go on our boat trip to try and swim with a whale shark.  We started the day with a practice snorkel, getting in and out of the boat in the way we would once we found a whale shark and following the guide.  Then we sat on the boat in our short wetsuits trying to stay warm while we waited for a call from the spotter plane - we had to be ready to go at any moment as they warned us everything could happen quite fast so I kept the wetsuit on rather than trying to get dry and warm!

I didn't have a watch on but I think it was only 30-45 minutes before the boat suddenly accelerated and we were off to find our whale shark!  There were 19 of us on the boat and only 10 snorkellers at a time are allowed in the water with the shark so they put us into 2 groups.  The way it worked was that the boat got fairly close and then one group jumped off the back of boat and swam over to where the videographer was indicating the shark was.  They had about 5 minutes swimming alongside then they surfaced, the boat dropped the other group off and came to pick up the first group - and repeat!  You have a maximum of an hour to swim with the shark providing it doesn't swim off or dive so they just cycle through that process as many times as possible in the hour.

We were lucky in that the shark was swimming fairly slowly (for them!) and hung around for the whole hour so we got 6 goes in the water with it.  We also had an 8m whale shark, which was massive!!  They do get bigger but that's about the biggest they see around there.

It was just an amazing experience - one of those where you're not quite sure who is checking who out, as the shark could have been gone with a couple flicks of its tail (they can swim faster than the boat could go) or it could have dived down and left us all on the surface.  But it carried on swimming slowly around while we looked at it and it looked at us!  It had various fish swimming around and under it while it cruised along.  On the second time we went in we were right in front of it and they told us to swim to the side and get out of its way as quickly as possible and to keep going because they can be attracted by bubbles so might follow!  I went the opposite way to the others and it did feel like it turned my way so I was frantically swimming to get to the side of it (you're supposed to stay at least 4m away).  It exhausted me but then I had an awesome view as everyone else was on the other side!

Getting in and out of the boat repeatedly and in a hurry was a bit of a hassle in fins/snorkels, I did get kicked a few times and ended up with various bruises but it was worth it!  I have some photos from my little compact in the waterproof case, they're not amazing but they give you an idea of what it was like so I'll upload one, we have the DVD from the videographer which I have no doubt will be much better than my snatched photos while swimming furiously and trying to get a shot past the other swimmers!

Once we were finished our hour with the whale shark we had lunch and then headed back to moor up by the reef and do a bit more snorkelling on the Ningaloo Reef.  On the way there I spotted a spurt of water coming out of the sea - it turned out to be several humpback whales!  The boat slowed down and we watched them for a few minutes, I think there were at least 3.  An extra bonus to an awesome trip!  As we'd found the shark fairly early we were back at Coral bay by 2pm!  We went down to the beach for sunset again and it was really awesome - there was a bit of cloud around to catch the colours and it was beautiful!

We had an extra day to play with and when we got to Coral Bay and liked it, we decided we would stay there an extra night and have a day on the beach on the Monday.  We extended our stay when we got back from the snorkel trip and of course the next day dawned grey, overcast and windy!!  So we didn't get our day on the beach but it was still nice to chill out and have 2 straight days not driving anywhere!  We also managed to plan most of our NZ trip, although we didn't have internet or phone signal there so still need to book it all up!

We're now back in Carnarvon on our way back down the coast.  We'll be back in Perth by Thursday afternoon and planning to go to Rottnest Island on Friday.  Coral Bay has definitely been a highlight of the trip - just a lovely, chilled out place and of course all the amazing marine life!

Tags: beach, coral bay, humpback whale, reef, snorkel, sunset, whale shark

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