Goal 42 – gentle giants.

I was up before the sun rose again this morning, and prepared for an early pick up to go on a whaleshark tour. A couple of weeks ago I had emailed all of the whaleshark tour operators in Exmouth, explaining what I am doing, and that one of my goals is to see a big whaleshark.

I was surprised to only hear back from two of the six Exmouth-based operators, and can only imagine that they are all fully booked and need no further customers this season! However, I did hear from Kat, who is manager of Ningaloo Blue, and she said she would be happy to book me on one of their tours, and would happily offer a repeat option if a big whaleshark was not spotted. She was very helpful, and enthusiastic to help out in any way she could with my goals, and so I had no hesitation in chosing to book my day with her.

I was picked up at the entrance to the caravan park, along with Stony, who was on the same tour. Along with a group of about 15 others we were driven about 30 kilomtres to the boat launch point around the cape, and ferried out to the big boat via a small zodiac inflatable.

After an initial snorkel practice on a shallow reef we headed out to the deeper waters outside the main reef, and awaited sightings from the spotter plane, which started it’s work at 10am. The small plane works for all of the tour oprerators, and once a whaleshark is spotted, all the boats in the vicinity get to share time with the creature in the water.

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We didn’t have to wait for long before the first whaleshark of the day was spotted by the plane, and we raced off to find it. Two other boats were already there, and as we approached the plane spotted another, and we were off again, being the first boat to meet this one.

Whalesharks are not related to whales at all, but are fish, and breathe through gills like any other fish do. They are the largest species of fish in the world, and regularly grow to lengths of 12 metres or more. They are filter feeders, eating plankton by swimming along with their mouths open, filtering the tiny creatures from the water as they go. They are known as gentle giants, and are very tolerant of swimmers in the water with them.

As the whaleshark approached we quickly geared up in our snorkel gear and jumped in. It was very exciting waiting in the water knowing this huge thing was heading our way. And suddenly there it was!! It wasn’t a fully grown one, but was still over 6 metre long, and very impressive as it swam straight towards us. We got out of its way, and then swam along beside it. It was quite an incredible and breath-taking sight.

After a hundred metres or so our group stopped, and the second group jumped in the water to meet the huge creature as it continued on towards them, and the boat then picked our group up. This continued for a while as the shark continued on its course, seemingly oblivious to the excitement around it. We got to swim with it three or four times before taking a break.

After a morning snack, we swam with the same shark again a couple more times, and then a smaler one was spotted nearby, and we heade3d of to see that one. It was still an impressive 4 metres long, and was much more curious that the bigger one.

Our second group was first in the water this time, and I climbed up to the bridge of the boat to see if I could get a picture of the shark in the water. All aboard were amazed as the whaleshark headed directly for the back of the boat, through the group of swimmers in the water, and came to within a metre of the back of the boat. It was like a scene out of “Jaws”, but without any of the fear of being eaten!

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I got to swim with the smaller shark soon afterwards, which was travelling fairly quickly, and was pleased to be one of only a couple of us who managed to keep up.

Some more snorkelling after a big lunch was an ideal conclusion to an awesome day. My huge thanks to Kat at Ningaloo Blue for making this happen for me, and to all aboard who made it such a great day. And cheers to Stony and family too for the celebratory beers afterwards, very much appreciated indeed.

Although I did not quite get to see the 10 metre plus whaleshark I had hoped to, I certainly feel that I can call this goals complete, as I got to spend quite a bit of time in very close proximity to the biggest fish I have eevr seen in my entire life. Fantastic!

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