Whale sharks are the gentle giants of the sea and the world’s biggest fish. But it’s not just whale sharks which attract tourists to the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, there’s also manta rays, turtles, dolphins, sharks and dungogs.
It’s easy to see why a close-up encounter of whale sharks is on many people’s bucket list. Our encounter with a 4 metre and later a 6 metre whale shark was captured by Alex Kydd, an award winning marine photographer, who was working with Coral Bay Eco Tours.
The three hour Ningaloo Whales tour covers more than whale sightings as you experience two snorkel sites where the coral formations and colourful schools of fish and sharks in all shapes and sizes is spectacular.
Whale sharks grow up to 12 metres long and have 1.5m-wide mouths with over 300 rows of teeth. Weighing in between 15 and 20 tons, they are covered in a checkerboard pattern that is unique to each whale shark much like human fingerprints.
Feeding on plankton, krill, small fish, and squid, whale sharks live up to 70 to 100 years. Sadly, largely due to vessel strikes, the population is at risk and they are considered a vulnerable species.
The Ningaloo Reef Marine Park, Australia’s longest fringing coral reef, is a promontory jutting into the Indian Ocean which stretches 200km long. The majestic coastline is wild and at times unforgiving with spinifex and sand dunes making up most of the terrain. The long lonely white sandy beaches experience everything nature can throw at them from cyclones to furnace like temperatures which soar to 45 degrees celsius in summer. In fact, there is sunshine 320 out of 365 days a year.
Unlike the Great Barrier Reef where rainforests meet the sea, here the desert meets the sea. Rather than big cities such as Cairns and Townsville, the Ningaloo coast is home to the sleepy towns of Exmouth (population of 2,400) and the even sleepier town of Coral Bay which has one main store, one bakery and two dive shops. Coral Bay has long been a camping ground where families arrive for an annual pilgrimage with their caravans and tents for their family holiday. For them, this quiet haven has been a long-held secret.
Now, as more people go in search of adventure, a growing number of tourists are making the journey to this incredible destination. Visitors fly into Learmouth Airport and typically head to Exmouth which is a 35km drive or Coral Bay which is 106km away. It’s a trek to reach this part of the world but for those who do, they are richly rewarded.