Whale swim trial starts in Exmouth
The State Government’s humpback whale swim trial off the Ningaloo Coast has started with a good deal of optimism among tourism operators on the North West Cape.
While the weather didn’t play ball for day one of the trial on Monday, swims were scheduled yesterday and today at time of print.
Tourism officials and local businesses have expressed optimism about the potential to extend Exmouth’s tourism season, but there have been concerns voiced about the dangers of swimming with the unpredictable giants.
A Department of Parks and Wildlife spokeswoman said operators had undergone extensive training in the lead-up to the trial. “While there are some similarities with the whale shark program, it is recognised that whales differ significantly in their behaviour and specific arrangements have been put in place to accommodate these differences,” she said.
“Swimmer safety cannot be guaranteed, however, the Department of Parks and Wildlife has set strict operational procedures and licence conditions for the trial to minimise the risk to both whales and tour participants.”
The spokeswoman said the department would assess disturbance to whales, compliance with licence conditions, and visitor satisfaction during the trial.
Three Islands Whale Shark Dive owner Mick Husband said spotter planes would likely be used by most operators to identify the right pods to swim with.
Mr Husband said operators would be looking for certain behaviours before allowing guests to jump into the water with the whales.
Exmouth Visitor Centre spokesman Ben Knaggs said interest and advance bookings for the trial had been strong.
“Our local operators are without a doubt amongst the most experienced and professional marine eco-tour providers in the country, so we have every confidence they will be able to deliver incredible in-water humpback whale experiences,” he said.
Mr Knaggs said high numbers of manta rays and good numbers of whale sharks hanging around meant visitors could have the chance to swim with all three megafauna in one day.
A humpback whale breaches off the North West Cape.