Whale sharks are being spotted earlier this year at Ningaloo. Their February arrival has been a surprise for locals and for tourism businesses who usually welcome them around mid March.
Each year, typically between March and August, whale sharks migrate down Western Australia’s coastline. This is during the coral spawning time at Ningaloo Reef. But this year, they’ve been spotted early (22 February by Coral Bay Ecotours during one of their manta ray trips), signalling, what many local tourism businesses hope will be, a long 2020 season.
Ningaloo is one of the only places in the world where whale sharks naturally aggregate in large numbers. Other places include Mexico and the Philippines. Growing to lengths of up to 40 feet, the whale shark is the biggest fish and shark in the world. Swimming with them is a relaxing experience and, despite reservations that some folks have about the word ‘shark’, whale sharks are gentle giants. They are filter feeders and they enjoy a diet of plankton and krill.
“Whale shark movements to and from the Ningaloo Reef vary from year to year, but the trend in recent years has been for them to arrive earlier and stay longer than what had been the norm in the past,” Said Kristy Bryan-Smith of Exmouth Visitor Centre. “In 2013 and 2014, the whale sharks stuck around until late October, so the opportunity for visitors to see and swim with these spectacular creatures just seems to be increasing here on the Ningaloo.”
Sadly, whale sharks are currently on the WWF’s ‘vulnerable to extinction’ list due to demand for their meat, fins and oil. But Ningaloo is known as one of the best spots in the world to swim with them, due to strict industry regulations and also due to the amazing water clarity.
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