Op­er­a­tors want rules re­laxed

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Tom Zaun­mayr

Op­er­a­tors who took part in the first year of the hump­back whale swim trial want to see changes to rules to give them a bet­ter chance of suc­cess­ful whale in­ter­ac­tions.

The trial on the Nin­ga­loo Coast was ap­proved to con­tinue for its sec­ond year by En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Al­bert Ja­cob last week , who noted the pos­i­tive ef­fect it had on the Ex­mouth econ­omy.

Pre­lim­i­nary re­sults from the in­au­gu­ral trial showed 1644 peo­ple swam with the gi­ants in the Nin­ga­loo Marine Park from Au­gust to Novem­ber 2016.

Kings Nin­ga­loo Reef Tours owner Bill McDon­ald said the trial had been good for tourism, but some rules needed to be re­laxed.

“I be­lieve we should be able to drop five in, then drop an­other five a bit fur­ther down, be­cause by the time you pick up one group and drop the next, the whale is gone,” he said.

“We had a four-minute in­ter­ac­tion with a whale in Com­mon­wealth wa­ters, which is only three miles off the beach, which we got in trou­ble for be­cause I was naive.

“To be able to swim out there in what we call the hump­back high­way on the 100m line would def­i­nitely help, but it is in Com­mon­wealth wa­ters.”

Nin­ga­loo Dis­cov­ery owner Matt Oak­ley said he would like to see swims with moth­ers and calves tri­alled.

“It is done in other parts of the world without any in­ci­dent to my knowl­edge,” he said.

Mr Oak­ley and Mr McDon­ald said the Depart­ment of Parks and Wildlife had man­aged the trial well to date.

En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Al­bert Ja­cob said the trial co­in­cided with a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in whale shark tour pas­sen­gers on the back of in­ter­est in hump­back swim tours.

“Pas­sen­ger num­bers for whale shark tours were up by an un­prece­dented 32 per cent in 2016, giv­ing a boost to the lo­cal Ex­mouth and Co­ral Bay econ­omy,” he said.

Mr Ja­cob said 3500 ex­tra pas­sen­gers were recorded in the main whale shark sea­son in 2016, with the re­main­der recorded from Au­gust to Oc­to­ber when the hump­back whale trial was run­ning.

Data from travel web­site Ex­pe­dia shows Ex­mouth ac­com­mo­da­tion book­ings for July to Oc­to­ber 2017 is up by more than one-third com­pared with the same time last year.

DPaW failed to re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Pic­ture: Tom Zaun­mayr

Hump­back whales cruise up the Nin­ga­loo Coast.

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