The 2023 Ningaloo whale shark season has officially commenced.
Make this year the year you tick off the bucket list experience of swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, an experience of a lifetime and a must-do when you're visiting the area. Ningaloo Reef is one of the world's largest fringing reefs, stretching over 300km along Western Australia's coastline, and is one of the only places in the world where whale sharks reliably congregate each year.
Being in the water with the world's biggest fish is both exhilarating and serene, simultaneously awe-inspiring and humbling. You'll feel dwarfed by a whale shark's massive size, but they are harmless filter feeders and their curiousity around people has nothing to do with food. A whale sharks' diets typically consists of plankton, copepods, krill and fish eggs.
Tours depart from both Coral Bay and Exmouth.
Did you know: only 1 in 3 million people globally will swim with a whale shark in their lifetime!
Video credit: Ningaloo Discovery
Frequently Asked Questions
Tours typically operate from March through to the end of June in Coral Bay and to early August in Exmouth. As whale sharks are wild animals in their natural environment, these season dates may vary from year to year.
Ningaloo's humpback swimming season runs from August to October, so if you join a Ningaloo Reef eco tour during these months there's a chance you may also swim with a whale shark. In 2022, people were encountering whale sharks until as late as mid-November! Please note, however, that there is no guarantee that you'll encounter a whale shark outside of the main season.
Tours operate from both Coral Bay and Exmouth, in Western Australia's Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area.
Whale shark tours are full day experiences. Expect to leave your accommodation around 7:00am and arrive back in the afternoon between 4:00pm and 5:00pm.
Your chosen whale shark tour operator's bus will collect you from a designated meeting point or your hotel and transfer you to the boat ramp, from where 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 tours include two snorkels on the inner reef, where you can see incredible coral, fish and sometimes turtles.
Following your snorkel on the inner reef, you'll continue to Ningaloo's outer reef, following the direction of the spotter plane. Once you're near a whale shark, the vessel will stop a safe distance away as to not disrupt the fish.
Next, you jump in! Groups of up to 10 swimmers enter the water with a dive master as their guide, ensuring you swim a safe distance from the whale shark. 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 into the water and start swimming. You'll 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.
After your whale shark encounter, the boat will pick up the members of your swimming group, then repeat the process for your next group of 10. This 'jump' is repeated several times before a late lunch is served, and you'll then have the opportunity for more snorkelling back on the inner reef.
Once you arrive back to shore, the bus will transfer you back to your accommodation.
1. We are world record holders.
Ningaloo currently holds the world's highest rate of whale shark swim numbers and accessibility of interaction, making it one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. Nearly 36,000 people swam with whale sharks at Ningaloo in 2022, with an interaction rate of 97.14%.
2. 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.
3. No sighting policy.
The majority of Ningaloo whale shark tour operators offer a 'no sighting' policy, allowing guests to join the next available tour day free of charge in the unlikely event they don't encounter a whale shark on their tour. Tourists are encouraged to book a whale shark tour in advance (before booking your flights and accommodation) and at the start of their holiday. Note: we recommend checking each operator's pollicy and conditions prior to booking.
4. We capture the moment for you.
All Ningaloo whale shark tour operators have an experienced 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 mesmerising experience, knowing that someone else is going to make you look good next to these big boys!
5. Learn from the best.
Each Ningaloo whale shark tour incldues onboard education from dive instructors, many of whom are marine biologists/scientists. Additionally, many tour operators employ staff who are bilingual, so there is a chance they'll speak your language (or, at the very least, 'speak to whale sharks' and make sure you have a great time!).
Check out the list of Coral Bay and Exmouth whale shark tour operators below!
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