Last weekend I jetted off on your very average, very typical family holiday. To a small & secluded coastal town in Western Australia to swim with the largest fish in the world, the whale shark.
Did I say typical? Well it’s typical if your parents are as cool as mine and enjoy doing things like taking you to full fill your fish-obsessed childhood dream of swimming with whale sharks. I also went to Paris when I was 10 years old but that’s a story for another day
So to swim with a whale shark is quite a complicated process involving aeroplanes to spot the giant fish (yes it’s that big it can be seen from the sky), the boat positioning you in front of the oncoming shark and finally actually keeping up with a 7m long fish. We apparently got the fastest shark they’d ever seen. This was the only point in my life that I regretted skipping 99% of my school swimming classes. The first I saw of Mr Sharky was his face as he was heading straight towards me. You can imagine this would be a little terrifying. No, not because a 7m shark was heading towards me but because I was terrified of getting in his way and scaring him. They eat plankton and are actually completely harmless to humans, so the only fear is getting too close to the shark which could upset/scare them.
Photos of Whale Sharks by Shannon Kat from Ningaloo Whale Sharks tours
For anyone concerned about the welfare of the sharks, the ecotours in the Ningaloo Reef are all strictly regulated to ensure the whale sharks are not irritated or upset or hurt in anyway by the tours. For example, no more than 10 people can swim with a shark at once and you have to remain at least 3m away at all times. The tour ensures that they do not disrupt the natural behaviour of the shark, so that it behaves in the same way it would if the tour was not there. They’ve carefully studied migration and numbers of the sharks over the years and found no difference in numbers since the tours begun. Every time a tour group swims with a shark, a crew member takes a photo of the shark which is then used to identify them on a database and track their age, gender and presence in the reef.