The Search So Far: Mawson’s Guardian, Mark, and the Guardian-ess set off to see the Whale Sharks that migrate up past the Ningaloo Reef in the North of Western Australia. But on our day out on the water, hours passed with no sighting of a whale shark. We feared we would miss out altogether. But then suddenly they were sighted.
The skipper steered into position. We tourists shuffled on bums down to the marlin board, tense for the word to drop in. If the skipper had judged right, the whale shark would cruise in front of us. Go! And there it was! Just below the surface, moving along with a smooth up and down motion of the whole body. I was so excited that if I had not needed the snorkel to breathe, I would have eaten it.
We were actually swimming with this great beast. We spread out into a semi circle and followed as long as possible. Some lucky people were alongside the shark, on either side, 3 or 4 metres away, with a good clear view. Some saw mostly its big tail and other snorkelers. The beast seemed unconcerned by us and never changed its pace. It easily pulled ahead within a few minutes.
The boat came round to pick us up. This required using upper body strength and a big kicking lunge to land your torso as high up the marlin board as possible before clambering up to the deck itself. No problem for me in the calm water within the reef. But the swell had gotten up as the cold front got closer. If the stern lifted up in the swell at the same time as you made your lunge, your big seal flop could be difficult, even bruising. I clobbered my chest. Several people struggled with it. The crew helped pull us up, of course.
A second beast was seen and then a third one. The vessel steered into a new position, and again we slid into the water. Several people this time got an excellent along-side swim. They got those classic “I swam with a Whale Shark’ instagramable photos. But I saw only a powerful tail ahead of me. That tail moved almost lazily but it made my effort to keep up with it seem like a flutter board chasing a silent jet ski. I swam as hard as I ever have; and the crew member, Ellie, who was helping me hauled me along too. I had never moved in the water so fast. But still not much of a view for me this time. And I was really drained. Been in the water 4 times now. But it was not over. The RV Thunder turned to try for a third swim.
We came around again ahead of the course of the whale sharks as they cruised seemingly without effort north along side Ningaloo Reef. Only 14 or so our group of 20 went in this time, the others exhausted. With help of crew member Ellie, I got into a good position. The spotted beast was huge, perhaps 4 metres, bigger than the others. I managed to keep up alongside it although it took the most powerful swimming of my life and Ellie towing me as well. Within 3 or 4 minutes perhaps, although it felt longer, the animal had glided ahead until there was only its tail to see. We boarded RV Thunder for the last time, collectively elated and exhausted. ( I needed help to get up out of the water this time.) All had seemed lost only an hour before. But now we had actually swum with the whale sharks!
Then our day got even better. The earliest hump back whales of the season were out there too! We hadn’t even expected whales.
To see a whale even from 150-200 metres or so, a huge pecoral fin surging out of the side of a swell and a big body curving up, blowing, and diving down (“Tharr she blows!”) is an uplifting sight. We saw one perhaps 50 m away surfing along the side of a big swell and turning its big pink belly to us. Another (or perhaps the same) turned to the vessel. Yes! It came on, swirled around until it was belly side up, all white and pink, dipped lower while still upside down, and went right under the boat. We think we saw 5 different migrating humpback whales. What a day! What a day!
(I couldn’t get vids of the whales, sorry, but here are more whale sharks we saw that day taken by Daniel Browne of Coral Bay Eco Tours.
Note: All under water pics shown here are by Daniel Browne of Coral Bay Eco Tours.
You are at Mark’s blog called Baffled Bear Books. Mark is a dark coffee tragic, bibliophile and Guardian of Mawson Bear, a Ponderer of Baffling Things and one of this bright world’s few published bears.