guest post by fly.com
If asked whether or not you fancy swimming alongside a 10 metre long shark with little else to protect you other than a wetsuit and a snorkel, it would be no surprise if there were very few takers. In reality, thousands of people book their long distance flight all the way to Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef every year between March and July to do just that.
Whale Sharks are the ocean's largest fish and they come complete with 3,000 tiny teeth and a fin that’s taller than most adults. Terrifying as that may sound, these gentle creatures have very little interest in dining on us and their diet consists of plankton and little else – thanks goodness!
Although similar experiences can be enjoyed around the world in places like Honduras and Cuba, Western Australia is unique in the fact that the whale sharks venture so close to the shore. The sharks feed just beyond the reef, which at its closest is just 300ft offshore meaning there is no need for long boat rides in order to get to where these giants roam.
A typical trip will involve heading out to sea, being told to get your wetsuits on and be ready at any time for the call from the spotter plane. Whale sharks can dive down to 2000 feet (600 metres) but come to the surface to feed, therefore it is important that when they are spotted you jump in straight away so that you can swim with them for as long as they allow before they dive back down to the depths.
Although the crew are quick to remind you that these sharks feed on nothing but plankton, the word shark still sends shivers up the spine. You have little time to think about it as no sooner have you been told that a shark has been spotted than you are rushing towards the back of the boat to hop in and see for yourself.
As you go under, you will be disorientated by the waves lapping at your snorkel and the bright sunshine darting through the surface and momentarily blinding you. Hang in there because as the water clears you will be greeted by one of the most spectacular sights any nature lover can hope for. These calm ocean giants, covered in spots and stripes like to take their time, they glide along with their impossibly large mouths agape in an attempt to make the most of the plankton rich water so prevalent in Western Australia during this time of year.
Although encounters with whale sharks can be brief, it is something that simply must be experienced. Very little is known about the whale shark, no-one knows how many exist or how long they live which makes them all the more fascinating to us. One thing is for certain, they have no interest in you. All they are doing is having their lunch so get over those fears and hop on in. It’s an experience of a lifetime and not to be missed.
Photo Credits: lead photo, blue depths, snorkel