The original whale shark expeditions were offshoots of a National Geographic expedition arranged by my friend of the Great White Sharks, Rodney Fox. After that trip, Rodney asked if I would be interested in offering expeditions to our clients. I jumped at it, and led three trips out there in the early 1990s.
On our first trip, we stayed at the colorful hotel and went out in day boats. We had our own spotter plane, flying up and down the Ningaloo Reef, spotting the whale sharks as they fed, and directing our captain by raido to intercept them. We were, of course, the only boat and plane out there.
In three years, I managed to jump into the water with 163 whale sharks, thrills I’ll never forget.
The water entry was colorful. The plane would radio the captain and he’’d tell us to get geared up. We’d don mini-tanks and spandex suits, take our cameras and crouch on the rail. The captain would parallel the whale shark, then pull ahead of it and say, “GO!!!!!”
Bodies would fly. We’d hit the water and spread out, and in many cases the whale shark would swim right up to us. On one notable occasion, a whale shark named Stumpy (hit by a propeller on its back) actually stopped and stayed with us for well over an hour.
Unfortunately, success bred imitation, as it has in so many of my favorite places. The last time I visited there were a dozen boats, they were sharing aircraft and rationing the time people could be in the water with the whale sharks. I’m usually long gone by the time that happens…