We were picked up just after 7am by the Ningaloo Whale Sharks bus and driven to Tantabiddi boat ramp in the Cape Range National Park. Jas was our tour guide and photographer, and Kieran was our bus driver and snorkel guide. A small inflatable tender ferried us out to Seazone, our whale shark tour boat.
Once on board the tour boat we met the rest of the crew. Davy was the boat skipper, Pete coordinated everything on deck, and Jordan was another snorkel guide. Ali and Fi were volunteer support crew. Marg and I had come along as observers. I didn’t know how I’d handle the swimming out on the reef, so it was best to err on the side of caution and observe instead. The others on board were all snorkeling. Pete made sure all who were snorkeling were kitted out appropriately with wetsuits or stinger suits, flippers, snorkels and masks.
By about 9am the snorkelers were in the water, exploring the corals of the inner Ningaloo Reef. They went in groups of ten, each with a snorkel guide. Jas swam between the two groups taking photos. Pete on board kept in touch with Jordan, Kieran and Jas through hand signals. The two groups of snorkelers were drifting, so the boat took a wide arc and positioned itself where each group naturally drifted over to it. After about fifteen minutes in the water, everyone was back on board.
By about 10am, our boat was receiving communications from a spotter plane above, which was scanning the waters below for whale sharks, manta rays and other marine megafauna. We crossed over to the deeper outer reef during morning tea and soon the waves breaking on the reef were between us and the shore. The spotter plane sent a message through that there was a large whale shark to our south. While we headed down to the whale shark’s location, Kieran instructed the snorkelers on the dos and don’ts of swimming with the large creatures.
As the whale shark was moving at a good pace, the snorkelers were put into the water in their groups in hurried fashion. They had to watch their guides, get into formation and then try to keep pace with the shark, which Pete said was eight and a half metres long. As the whale shark swam past a group and left them behind, the boat would swing past and pick them up while the second group swam with the creature. While this was happening, the boat was bringing the first snorkel team around to a new position and dropping them off again so they were ready when the whale shark swam past them again. And so it continued – a short swim and observation, then a return to the boat to be taken to a new spot before the process could be repeated, all the time alternating with the other group. The guides were excellent, getting the snorkelers into position, assisting those who needed it, pointing where to look, and signalling to Pete on board the Seazone. Jas swam back and forth between the two groups with her camera, trying to position each swimmer between herself and the whale shark for a photo. While this was happening, Pete stayed in close contact with the spotter plane pilot and the ship’s skipper as well Jas and the two guides in the water. Neither Marg nor I saw a whale shark, though on a couple of occasions Pete pointed to a dark patch of water in front of the snorkelers and asked if we could see the shape of the shark. But Rod and Cornie both got a good look at the shark from close quarters and Rod managed to get a couple of photos as well.
A second whale shark was spotted from the plane and we soon found it. We followed that shark for about half an hour, once again alternating putting a group into the water, then another, then picking the first group up and dropping them at a new spot, then doing the same for the second group. By the time we stopped following that whale shark, Davy had located a couple of oceanic manta rays, which are not so commonly observed by boat tours such as this one. Once again the groups of snorkelers returned to the water to try to spot the giant rays as they swam past, but very few claimed to have sighted the mantas before they disappeared. We were lucky enough to catch a glimpse when they almost surfaced right alongside our boat. The two photos below actually show manta rays, but it’s almost impossible to see them without adding filters to highlight them. In the first photo, the manta is directly above the head of the snorkeler in the foreground, appearing as a white shape between other snorkelers. In the second photo, the part of the manta that is barely visible is a white patch just to the left of the centre of the photo.
I think by the time we left the outer reef and headed back to the calmer waters of the inner reef, most of the snorkelers had at least caught a glimpse of a whale shark, if not a manta. Lunch was served – a selection of rolls, meats and salads, and by the time it was all packed away our boat was back in the calmer waters of the inner reef. Most of the snorkelers went back into the water here for a last chance to explore the coral. We returned to the jetty mid-afternoon. Marg and I hadn’t seen a whale shark, but we had had a really good day out on Ningaloo Reef with a great bunch of people. Jas drove us back to Exmouth and dropped us off at our accommodation.
Jas, as I mentioned, had been had at work during snorkeling sessions taking photos. We purchased the package. Here are some of her photos from today’s whale shark tour. I think they’re outstanding.