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Rise of Ningaloo’s humpback swim

Exmouth is known as the place to swim with whale sharks, but after the success of the third year of a trial to swim with humpback whales, that is starting to change.

The humpback swim trial started in 2016 to mixed reviews and the 2017 season was fraught with difficulties because of a change in the rules by the State Government.

Live Ningaloo owner-operator Murray Pattison said everywhere in the world a humpback whale calf was defined as half the size of its mother but in 2017 that was changed to two-thirds, but only for the Ningaloo coast.

“That made it really tough because in October, we really only have mums and calves going down the humpback highway, and the calves are usually bigger than half but not quite two-thirds the size,” he said. “Now, they’ve rectified that and it gives us an extra month of business. It allows us to be consistent and at this time of year, we should get a swim every day.”

While the whale sharks are still a more lucrative business as tour operators across the Ningaloo coast have a 96 per cent success rate, interactions with humpbacks can be better.

“I personally prefer the humpback swims; they choose to interact with you so it’s more natural, whereas with the whale sharks, you tend to swim with it and you’re making the interaction happen,” Mr Pattison said.

“You get great interactions with the half-size calves. They’re very curious, they come and check you out and that’s what people will remember, a humpback whale coming to interact with them.” Minister for Environment Stephen Dawson has approved the continuation of the in-water interaction trials for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

“We are continuing to assess and develop this new and innovative tourism experience, but visitor research from the first two years of the trial indicates that visitor satisfaction is very high and there are no indications of negative impacts on the whales,” he said.

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