The wild blue yon­der

Into the deep with whale sharks at Nin­ga­loo Reef

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - GRA­HAM LLOYD

From a spot­ter plane di­rect­ing tourists to the vista be­low, Western Aus­tralia’s Cape Range Na­tional Park and Nin­ga­loo Reef present like rib­bons of ex­tremes. The deep blue of the open ocean gives way to a stripe of coral that melts through oxy­genated turquoise wa­ters into white sands, then to a scrubby hin­ter­land ris­ing to a ragged lime­stone range teem­ing with kan­ga­roos, wal­la­bies and emus.

But the real ac­tion is in the wa­ter, where a com­bi­na­tion of nat­u­ral forces cre­ates one of the world’s most dy­namic aquatic do­mains. Nin­ga­loo Reef, Aus­tralia’s largest fring­ing coral reef, is a kalei­do­scopic gar­den home to more than 300 species of fish. Pods of killer whales, or or­cas, stalk mi­grat­ing fam­i­lies of hump­back whales, ever ready to pick off the weak. Whale sharks, the world’s largest fish, re­turn to the area to gorge on the an­nual coral spawn and the ex­plo­sion of life that re­sults from the mix­ing of two cur­rents in March or April each year.

The 50km wide and 200m deep Leeuwin Cur­rent car­ries warm wa­ter south from In­done­sia to mix with the Nin­ga­loo Cur­rent bring­ing cold wa­ter north from the South­ern Ocean. The whale sharks gather in what is known as the per­cus­sion zone on the edge of the reef. Here there is more oxy­genated wa­ter than fur­ther out to sea and plank­ton is forced to the sur­face. It’s this con­cen­tra­tion of mi­cro­scopic ma­rine life that draws in the whale sharks to feed.

In the wa­ter, the whale sharks are un­fazed by swim­mers, who travel the globe to share the leviathans’ world. Eco­tourism op­er­a­tors com­mu­ni­cate with spot­ters circ-

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