Swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef is the experience of a lifetime, and a must-do when you're visiting the region. Ningaloo Reef is Australia's largest fringing reef, and one of the largest on Earth.
Being in the water with the world's biggest fish is exhilarating and serene all at the same time. It's simultaneously awesome and humbling. You'll feel dwarfed by their massive size, but whale sharks are filter feeders and their curiosity around people has nothing to do with food. Whale sharks' diets typically consist of plankton, copepods, krill and fish eggs.
Did you know: Only 1 in 3 million people globally will swim with a whale shark in their life!
Each year, from mid-March through until the end of July, whale sharks congregate in large numbers at Ningaloo. This congregation is triggered by annual coral spawning, which happens between 7 and 10 days after the full moon in March and April.
Frequently Asked Questions
When do tours operate?
- Tours typically operate from mid-March through to the end of June in Coral Bay, and from April through to the end of July in Exmouth. As whale sharks are wild animals in their natural environment, these season dates may vary from year to year.
Where do tours operate?
- Tours operate from both Coral Bay and Exmouth, in the Ningaloo World Heritage Area.
- Qantas fly between Perth and Learmonth Airport (Exmouth). The flight takes just under 2 hours, and from the airport it is a 25 minute drive to Exmouth or a 1 hour, 10 minute drive to Coral Bay.
- Alternatively, you can road trip from Perth to Coral Bay and Exmouth on the Coral Coast Highway. This can be experienced as a one-way Fly + Drive Holiday, or as a round-trip, self drive holiday. Coral Bay is approximately 12 hours' drive north of Perth, and Exmouth is approximately 13 hours' drive north of Perth.
How does a whale shark tour work?
- Whale shark tours are full day experiences - expect to leave your accommodation around 7:00am and arrive back in the afternoon around 4:00pm or 5:00pm.
- The whale shark tour operator's bus will collect you from the designated meeting point or your hotel, to take you to the boat ramp and you'll set out onto the Ningaloo Reef.
- You'll be given a safety briefing on the boat before having the opportunity to snorkel on Ningaloo's inner reef, while spotter planes locate the whale sharks. Most whale shark tours include two snorkels on the inner reef, where you can see incredible coral and fish.
- You'll continue to Ningaloo's outer reef, following the direction of the spotter plane, and once you near a whale shark the vessel will stop a safe distance away as to not disrupt the fish.
- Jump in! Groups of up to 10 swimmers enter the water with a dive master as their guide, ensuring you swim a safe distance with the fish. Most whale shark tours accommodate up to 20 guests on board, so you'll be split into smaller groups for the experience. You'll be dropped in the water close to the whale shark, and your guide will tell you when to put your head in the water and start swimming. Be left breathless as these giant spotty fish glide past you in the water, soaking up the sight of the distinctive white spots on their grey bodies, with defined ridges which almost look like stripes.
- The boat will pick up the members of your swimming group, then repeat the process for the next group of 10. The 'jump' is repeated several times before a late lunch is served, and then you'll have the opportunity for more snorkelling back in the inner reef.
- Once you arrive back to shore, the bus will transfer you back to town or your accommodation.
Why swim with Whale Sharks at Ningaloo?
- We are World Record Holders
Ningaloo Reef currently holds the world's highest rate of whale shark swim numbers and accessibility of interaction, making Ningaloo one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. Ningaloo has one of the highest interaction rates, boasting 96% last season. Ningaloo is one of the only places in the world where these huge but completely harmless fish reliably congregate each year.
- Our eco-tourism practises
Not only are sightings reliable, whale shark tours at Ningaloo are responsibly run by a small group of licensed professionals to ensure a sustainable and eco-friendly whale shark experience. Procedures and guidelines are managed by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation & Attractions to ensure that tours have minimal impact on the whale sharks, including managing how close vessels and swimmers can get to whale sharks, how many swimmers can be in the water at any one time, and ensuring that swimmers don't interfere with the whale shark's natural behaviour. Additionally, a percentage of each whale shark tour ticket sold goes towards important whale shark research and conservation completed by Dr Brad Norman of ECOCEAN. Dr Norman has identified more than 7,500 individual whale sharks in the global monitoring database, including over 1,300 from Australia alone. This important research helps the world to understand more about the fish species.
- No sighting policy
All Ningaloo whale shark tour operators offer a 'no sighting' policy, giving guests the next available tour day free of charge. Tourists are encouraged to book a whale shark tour in advance (before your flights and accommodation!) and at the beginning of a holiday.
- We capture a moment for you
All Ningaloo whale shark operators have an underwater photographer or videographer on board who can provide a lasting memento of the day's swim. All you have to do is take in the incredible experience, knowing someone else is going to make you look good next to these big boys!
- Learn from the best
Each Ningaloo whale shark tour experience includes on board education from dive instructors, most of whom are marine biologists/scientists. Additionally, many tour operators employ staff who are bilingual, so there is a chance they will speak your language (or, at the very least, 'speak to whale sharks' and make sure you have a great time).
Which tour do I book?
- Check out the list of Coral Bay and Exmouth whale shark tour operators below!
Discover Ningaloo's Big 3
Africa has its Big 5, and Ningaloo has its Big 3 - whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. Get up close to these incredible megafauna on tour from Coral Bay and Exmouth.