Whale swim trial starts in Ex­mouth

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Tom Zaun­mayr

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.

Pic­ture: Ja­nine Marx, Ex­mouth Vis­i­tor Cen­tre

A hump­back whale breaches off the North West Cape.

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