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Commencement of 2019 Humpback Whale Season in Ningaloo, Western Australia

July 29, 2019 Destination Global No Comments Email Email

Western Australia (WA) can now claim to be one of the premier destinations for humpback whale in-water interactions after three years of trials in the World Heritage-listed Ningaloo Marine Park.

With two more trial years approved by the WA Government for 2019 and 2020, this year’s season kicked off in Coral Bay on 1 July and will commence in Exmouth from 1 August, both locations running until 30 October.

Over the past three years, tour operators licensed to provide in-water interactions with whales have utilised their expertise to improve the experience, delivering a safe, enjoyable and well managed product that complies with Government regulations for swimmers and observers. The licenses are issued to existing and highly experienced whale shark tour operators who have been taking consumers to swim with or observe whale shark interactions for many years in the Ningaloo Marine Park.

Improvements in tour delivery include locating whales through spotter planes communicating directly to the boat’s head guide, direct radio contact between the Skipper and the in-water guide via radio, and on-board drones, all increasing the success rate of interactions.

Regulations, for licensed operators participating in the trials, also allow vessels to approach to 75 metres from the side of resting whales when attempting an in-water interaction and 150 metres in front of travelling whales.  This also provides a better experience and close-up view for observers.

A total of 272 tours were conducted in 2018, an increase of almost 40% since the trial began in 2016, with the number of people attempting to swim with a whale more than doubling over the trial period.  The interaction success rate has also increased from 68% in 2016 to 76% in 2018. (Reference: Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions).

According to Kylie Merritt from Coral Bay Ecotours, Coral Bay, since the season commenced on July 1 a number of amazing interactions have occurred above and below the water.

“With three seasons of Humpback Whale in-water interactions under our belt, our experienced skippers and crew are confident that we can provide our guests with the best possible chance of an amazing interaction with the Humpback Whales.”

Sarah Ellis from Ningaloo Discovery, Exmouth, has reported that the addition of in-water communications directly between spotter plane pilots and head guides has increased their interaction success rate to 90%.

“Many of our professional and experienced crew are now in their 3rd and 4th season and have a wealth of knowledge and experience to ensure the best possible interactions with these amazing gentle giants of the sea. Our sailing catamaran has low noise and disturbance levels allowing no impact on the whales as a result of guests entering the water.”

Debbie Ferguson from Exmouth Dive & Whalesharks Ningaloo also adds “that managing the number of swimmers on the boat to two groups of seven also ensures the opportunity for more than one swim with the humpbacks”.

Humpback whales, having a wide geographic range, are found in all the world’s oceans. There are only three countries in the world where you can swim with humpback whales, and Australia is one of them. There are three locations in Australia including the Ningaloo Marine Park (Exmouth and Coral Bay) in Western Australia.

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