Kelly Landry went to Ningaloo Reef off the coast of Exmouth in Western Australia. She joined Ocean Eco Adventures on one of their amazing outings. She was set to swim with the biggest and rarest fish in the world, from a species that's been swimming in the ocean for around 16 million years!
Ningaloo Reef is one of just two areas in the world where whale sharks regularly congregate in numbers. In the season, up to 175 are spotted. The reef is home to 500 species of fish and 250 coral species.
WA's Department of Environment and Conservation is the management agency for the Ningaloo Marine Park and Cape Range National Park. There are strict rules to be observed, and operators are very aware of them. One restriction is that a boat can only go up to 30m from the whale sharks, unless the creatures approach the boat and they usually do!
Ocean Eco Adventures is the only tour group with a spotter plane. When they see a whale shark, it's all go for some interaction. You just slip as quickly and quietly as possible into the water and be prepared for an amazing experience. Kelly was so moved by the beauty and gentleness of the enormous creatures, she wanted to hug them!
Between swims, the crew is a great source of information. Kelly was told whale sharks can reach up to 14m in length and weigh up to 15 tonnes. They move very slowly, can dive to 1500m beneath the sea and live between 70 and 100 years. As well as all that, they are harmless to humans.
Ocean Eco Adventures' tours start with a bus transfer to Tantabiddi boat ramp. Everyone then boards a Zodiac dinghy to the 18m-long vessel Keshi-Mer. It has comfortable seating, shaded deck, swim platform, area for marine animal viewing, galley, toilet and hot rinse shower. They take a maximum of 18 people, with no more than nine for every guide.
The first snorkel site is around 15 minutes from the lagoon mooring. Hard coral in glorious blues and purples and an abundance of tropical fish present a magical world. You'll also spot turtles, dolphins, dugong, marlin, rays, and loads of sea birds seem to enjoy following the boat. It's another 15 minutes to the outer reef and open ocean for the experience of a lifetime.
If you can swim, you can do it. You have to be 18 or older unless accompanied by an adult. The minimum recommended age is 10 years, but it's up to the parents. They take beginners as well as those with special needs or disabilities.
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