Whale Sharks (Rhincodon typus)
Despite their impressive size, whale sharks aren’t whales – they are sharks and the largest fish in the sea, growing up to 18 meters in length with a flat, broad head and mouth which can up to be a metre in width! Every year, in the months of March through to August, the world’s biggest fish make their way to Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef, a World Heritage Site off the coast of Exmouth (approximately 1200km north of Perth) with a reputation for being one of the best whale shark snorkelling sites found anywhere in the world.
Swimming with these amazing creatures, these gentle giants of the sea, is a remarkable experience, one you won’t forget anytime soon, with Ningaloo Whaleshark ‘N’ Dive’s tours the very best way to get up close and personal with whale sharks up to 10 metres in length in the pristine waters of one of Australia’s most revered diving spots. If you’re up for a once in a lifetime experience, one in which you’ll swim with a variety of amazing marine life in addition to whale sharks, our tours are for you!
Whale Sharks – Gentle Giants of the Sea
Amazing in many ways, and not just because of their remarkable size, whale sharks are a slow-moving, plankton-feeding shark with a mottled, grey skin covered in hundreds of dots that has lead many people to remark that they look a lot like an Aboriginal dot painting! With an extremely thick, sandpaper-rough skin that protects these harmless creatures from cuts and wounds, the greatest threat to whale sharks isn’t other marine life such as other sharks or whales, but us – humans.
As whale sharks are an endangered oceanic species, the greatest care must be taken to protect these beautiful beasts, which is why it’s important to go swimming with whale sharks with licensed Perth operators, like Ningaloo Whaleshark ‘N’ Dive. With a marine biologist aboard all tours, experienced tour guides who understand whale shark behaviour to get you up close with these giant creatures, our whale shark tours on Ningaloo Reef are the ultimate way to interact with the largest fish in the sea in one of the world’s most pristine marine environments.
Cool Whale Shark Facts
Here are a few cool whale shark facts to prepare yourself for the once in a lifetime experience – diving with whale sharks off the Exmouth coast on Western Australia’s stunning North West Cape.
- Whale sharks are found in warm, open waters of tropical oceans with few sightings in waters with temperatures below 22°C. Along with WA’s Ningaloo Reef, other popular spots include Gladden Spit in Belize, Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park and Djibouti’s Gulf of Tadjoura.
- Whale sharks spend most of their time travelling between tropical waters north and south of the equator in search of food, migrating to the Ningaloo Reef and other warm environments in search of plankton and krill, which are tiny oceanic crustaceans that are high in nutrients.
- Like sharks in general, whale sharks have very slow growth rates, are late to mature and have a low fecundity (birth rate), which makes them very susceptible to overfishing. That’s why we need to protect our ocean waters, as the biggest threat to whale sharks is humans!
- Although it’s difficult to determine the lifespans of whale sharks, modelling suggests they live about 70 years (some sources claim they live up to 100 years) with females giving birth to live young (40 to 60cm in length) when they reach sexual maturity at 30 years of age.
- A remarkably docile fish species, whale sharks are completely harmless and there have been no reported attacks on divers. As whale sharks have a diet limited to plankton and krill – the smallest creatures found in our oceans and seas – don’t worry, you’re not on the menu!
- The planktonic matter that whale sharks depend on for their survival becomes concentrated around Ningaloo Reef following the coral spawning in March and April, with April through to July the only months in which it’s possible to go whale shark diving north of Perth.
- To feed, whale sharks open their mouths wide and allow the water to be channelled through their gills. These gills are enormous and are lined with hundreds of tiny teeth called gill rakers, which are used to collect the plankton while allowing the water to pass back out.
- While their mouths are huge (most adults could fit inside the mouth of a whale shark), the oesophagus of an adult whale shark (the canal that connects the throat to the stomach) is remarkably tiny. In fact, it’s only about the same size as an Australian 20-cent coin!
- While whale sharks look very similar to one another with their mottled grey skin and white dots, no two whale sharks are alike. Just like our finger prints, the skin on each creature is uniquely different with its own distinctive pattern of white dots spread across its body.
- The largest confirmed whale shark specimen was 12.65m in length and weighed in at a whopping 21.5 tonnes. However, sightings of whale sharks over 14 metres in length aren’t uncommon with the largest specimen sighted by fishermen believed to be well over 18 metres!
- In 2009, scientists conducting research in the Philippines discovered what is still believed to be the smallest specimen of whale shark ever captured. At just 38cm in length, the discovery of the young shark raises questions about breeding and the size of baby whale sharks.
Swim With Whale Sharks
A once in a lifetime opportunity that’s not to be missed, Ningaloo Whaleshark ‘N’ Dive’s sensational whale shark interaction tours are guided by experienced marine experts from our purpose-built dive vessel HERON. With no age restrictions – if you can swim, you can snorkel with whale sharks – and tours departing from Exmouth daily, don’t miss out on a life-changing experience that will surely change the way you look at our oceans forever. For more information on whale shark tours north of Perth, contact the team on 1800 224 060