Epic encounters with creatures of the deep at Ningaloo Reef

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to swim with the whale sharks? Our social media manager, Jodie, took a trip to Ningaloo last week and went out with our preferred tour operator, Live Ningaloo. Here’s her take on the big bucket list item many people come to Sal Salis to tick!

“I’d been whale sharking before, but it didn’t even come close to the experience I had with Live Ningaloo last week.  As Sal Salis’s social media manager, I’d been working closely with Live Ningaloo for a while. I knew their unique selling points and had high expectations of having a memorable day of swimming alongside whale sharks at Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.

I’m delighted to say my high expectations were blown out of the water! The tour was INCREDIBLE from start to finish and memorable for so many reasons.

We started the day with some snorkelling and spent some time swimming alongside a beautiful green turtle. and even saw some rays! I have a particular fondness for turtles, so the tour started on a high.

Conditions were optimal – minimal wind, warm temperature, calm water, excellent visibility and not a cloud in the sky. Welcome to ‘winter’ in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area!

It wasn’t long before Live Ningaloo’s spotter plane located a whale shark for us to swim with. One of the main benefits of choosing Live Ningaloo is that they only take ten passengers per tour, which means you get to spend the maximum amount of time swimming with whale sharks. Other vessels take more passengers, but only ten can swim with the whale shark at a time so you take turns with other passengers.

We had received an entertaining and informative brief from Katie (the onboard marine ecologist) and Doug (our attentive deckhand) and were eagerly awaiting the signal to gently enter the water.

There it is! Onboard photographer, Chris Jansen, has spotted the whale shark and Katie is lining us up so that we can form a V around it and follow its path. Masks below the surface, we are all so excited to see the whale shark appear in front of us and we swim as fast as our fins will carry us to keep up with this deceptively fast enormous fish! We must’ve spent about ten minutes swimming with the whale shark, who at approximately four-metres long was a juvenile, but certainly no less impressive than swimming with a larger one.

We jumped back onto the boat, all buzzing from the experience. While were waiting for our next drop, we saw a yellow sea snake float past the boat, which was a first for me. What a beautiful creature.

We were lucky enough to have another three long swims with the same whale shark. One of the great things about the day was that we were all able to see the whale shark from different angles – alongside it near the dorsal fins and also behind its massive tail as it swayed mesmerisingly from side to side.

It was on the last drop that we were in for the biggest surprise… Having swam with the whale shark a few times, we had now worked out what we were supposed to do, so had all found positions alongside it and were swimming along happily when all of a sudden, it disappeared.

I looked up to find Katie to get instructions on where to go when suddenly I saw a humpback whale gently emerge just a few metres away and check us out! No sooner than the whale had appeared, it had disappeared back into the depths. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned around to see if the others had seen it too. I made eye contact with a fellow Sal Salis guest, Barry. Barry’s eyes were like saucers! Barry is an experienced diver and has had some amazing marine experiences under his belt and he was like a kid in a candy store. Chris Jansen, the onboard photographer has also spent a lot of time in the ocean and even he was excited.

We couldn’t stop talking about it. The whale didn’t display any aggressive behaviour, it was just curious, so it popped up to see what was going on and it was AMAZING!

After that, the spotter plan wasn’t able to find our friendly whale shark again, but it was more than fine with us. We finished whale sharking on a high and had time to see other marine creatures.

Our captain, Murray, took us to see some more humpback whales and even found a pod of dolphins who danced around the boat to our delight. We finished the day with a spot of snorkelling over some massive coral bombies and saw many different species of colourful coral and fish.

We went back to Sal Salis that night and couldn’t stop talking about our epic unexpected encounter with not one, but two gentle giants of the deep at Ningaloo Reef.

It was a taste of what is yet to come. Live Ningaloo will run their last whale shark tour of the season on 31 July, and will commence offering humpback whale swims from 1 August. As if we needed another reason to visit! Count us in! Our humpback whale encounter was way to short. We’re not ticking it off the bucket list yet. Care to join us?