Tours to swim with humpbacks along the Ningaloo Reef have got off to a better than expected start as Western Australia’s first ever in-water humpback interaction tours began their four-month trial period from August 1st.
Humpback whale interaction tour operators working out of both Exmouth and Coral Bay have reported success rates for up-close underwater interactions with humpbacks as high as 90% – far higher than was initially expected.
Owner of humpback whale interaction tour company Three Islands Whaleshark Dive, Mick Husband, said he believed the previous experience held by Ningaloo marine eco-tour operators – all of whom have been conducting tours to swim with the Ningaloo Reef’s famous whale sharks for many years – has made a huge difference to the initial success of this exciting new tour experience for the Ningaloo.
“The experience our local marine eco-tour industry has with whale sharks and whale shark tours has really helped us when it comes to putting our swim groups in the best possible positions for an up-close underwater experience.”
“In the handful of other destinations worldwide where swimming with humpback whales is possible, some of the local operators are not as accustomed to putting tour groups into the water with large marine animals and are not utilizing aircraft to find the best whales to swim with, so it would appear success rates for underwater interactions have been much lower in those areas.” Mr Husband said.
Owner of humpback whale interaction tour company Ocean Eco Adventures, James Small, said the inquisitive nature of Ningaloo humpback whales had also contributed to the success rates of these initial tours.
“The whales have definitely been more social than we probably thought they would be” Mr Small said.
“Whether that be sitting under the swimmers and singing for twenty minutes, swimming over to snorkellers to really check them out, or just circling the swim group for a better look, in most cases we’ve had meaningful underwater interactions rather than the whales just ignoring us or swimming away.”
The humpback interaction tour trial period also carries an important research and monitoring component that is carried out in conjunction with the tours.
Western Australian Department of Parks & Wildlife Humpback Whale & Whale Shark Conservation Officer, Dani Rob said a comprehensive research and monitoring program has been incorporated into the humpback interaction tours trial period, conducted via collaborations between the WA Department of Parks & Wildlife and external research institutions including Murdoch University, Curtin University and the University of Tasmania.
“We’re monitoring the impact on whales, their behaviours, the effectiveness of our interaction protocols and also conducting tour participant satisfaction surveys.”
“This collaborative approach between tour operators, research organisations and government departments essentially means we’re all working together to give this trial our best shot and potentially make swimming with humpback whales a successful ongoing visitor attraction for the Ningaloo region.” Ms Rob said.
The long term success of humpback interaction tours has the potential to be a major boost for the tourism dependent Ningaloo region, adding another key visitor drawcard to its list of eco-adventure attractions.
For more information on Ningaloo humpback whale interaction tours visit: www.visitningaloo.com.au.