Diving with the sharks.
Onf of Lochie's best dives was with the amazing large whale sharks.
Whale sharks are the world's biggest fish, and the largest living cold-blooded animals. They are generally harmless and eat only small creatures such as krill and plankton. Their method of eating these small marine animals is much like the filtration method whales use to eat, which is why they have the name "whale shark".
Whale sharks are generally between four and 12 metres long and can weigh up to 40,000 kilograms. Apart from the time some of them spend on the surface at Ningaloo, much of the life of whale sharks is a mystery. It is not known how and where they breed, and there is no method for determining their age.
Whale sharks frequent Ningaloo Reef all year round, but are more abundant during March and April. The reason for this is the annual coral spawning which happens after the full moon in March. This attracts swarms of plankton and schools of small fish. Two weeks after the coral spawning, tiny crustaceans, known as krill, also gather in swarms along the reef to spawn. This massive food selection is what attracts the whale sharks, along with manta rays and thousands of jellyfish.
Ningaloo is said to be second only to the Great Barrier Reef in richness of species and beauty. It extends 260 kilometres and covers about 4000 square kilometres of ocean. It was declared a marine park in 1987 and is inhabited by more than 220 types of coral, and over 500 species of fish.
The waters within the park are divided into three zones general, recreational and sanctuary. Fishing and collecting is not allowed in the sanctuary zones, which are normally where creatures such as dugongs and other rare animals like to visit, but are too shallow for the whale shark. Whale sharks within the Ningaloo Marine Park are fully protected by the Wildlife Conservation Act and watching them is regulated by the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management.
Exmouth Dive Centre has been running whale shark tours for nine seasons. They claim to have a success rate of spotting the creatures of about 95 percent, but it is suggested you allow two days, just to be sure you find the sharks.
A typical day tour begins at the dive centre at 7:30am with a briefing before a 35 kilometre drive to Tantabiddi boat ramp where you board a charter vessel.
The boat is positioned in a roughly central spot near a gap in the reef, in wait for word from the spotter plane pilot. The sharks can be found from 1 to 15 kilometres away, and the boat stays out until about 3pm.