From mid-2016 travellers to the Western Australia’s Coral Coast will be allowed to swim with humpback whales.

Travellers to Western Australia can swim with humpbacks from mid-2016.

Travellers to Western Australia can swim with humpbacks from mid-2016. Image by William Klos / CC BY 2.0

Last year saw 20,670 people visit Ningaloo Reef to swim with the world’s largest fish – the whale shark. Operators at Ninglaoo Marine Parkwith existing whale shark swimming licenses, will be able to extend this to the humpback migration season for a trial in July 2016. Business owners who conduct whale-watching tours hope to continue with whale watching, but to also build a successful and sustainable whale swimming experience.

Whale shark operators have vast in-water interaction experience with large marine animals and will receive additional training and guidelines from WA’s Department of Parks and Wildlife in advance of the season opening. Whales have unique movement patterns, and for this reason, a tour participant will only be allowed to interact with single whales, not accompanied by calves. To fully participate, visitors will require a high swimming capability as whales, in general, are more agile and faster moving than whale sharks. Tourists will continue to have the option to stay on board as a viewer at a reduced rate.

The new tours will extend the whale shark season, which traditionally finishes around July. It is hoped the trial will offer a significant boost to the Ningaloo area’s economy, as well as the wider Coral Coast region and the state of Western Australia.