Did you know?
Whale sharks have a broad distribution in tropical and warm temperate seas, usually between latitudes 30°N and 35°S
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Best Time to Swim with a Whale Shark
The good news is that the likelihood of swimming with a whale shark on your first tour is around 95% success rate from very late March to late July each year.
And if you are thinking of coming outside of peak season, the whale sharks usually arrive in early March and hang around Exmouth until that the whale sharks usually hang around well into August and beyond most years. (In 2016 we were swimming with them in October!)
That’s not to say in a few sad years they arrive late and leave early – we have had a couple of years where the last of the whale sharks apparently left in later July. But this is the exception rather than the norm.
So when to come really comes back to you, what you enjoy, and what your holiday plans are.
March and April are hotter, like a tropical beach holiday without the humidity. Two very special events during these times are the coral spawning on the Ningaloo Reef (dates vary each year) and baby turtles hatching from their nests on the beaches all along the Cape, and making a mad dash to the relative safety of the waters of the inner Ningaloo Reef. (If you head out late evening or early morning you often will get to witness this explosion of new life all the way along the Ningaloo.) Early mornings and late afternoons are ideally suited to walking the gorges and being active outdoors, whilst the midday sun is perfect for beach-lazing under the shade of an umbrella or lying by a pool… or just reading a great book in airconditioned comfort.
Early to mid May is usually the quietest time of the peak season, so if fewer people around floats your boat it’s a great time to visit the Ningaloo. The weather cools down, so there’s more time during daylight hours to see and do and experience what Cape Range National Park, the Ningaloo Reef and Coral Bay and Exmouth have to offer too.
Late May and June see Two and Three of the Big Three come and join the whale sharks off the Ningaloo Reef. The Oceanic Manta Rays arrive to join their slightly smaller and less curious manta rays endemic to the Reef. And the first of the Humpback Whales start migrating past on their way to their calving grounds off the Kimberley. A whale shark tour between late May and August often involves whale shark and manta ray swimming, watching the stunning surface displays of the humpback whales (full body breaches, tail slapping, perduncles breaches and so much more) and then being surrounded by whale song as you snorkel the Ningaloo Reef too!
April and July School Holidays are traditionally very busy. Its still a stunning time to visit, but town is heaving and bursting at its seams, with longer to wait for service in shops – we recommend you book for meals at restaurants and cafes too.
Having said that, apart from being busy, many locals view July as the best month to live and work on the Ningaloo, with beautiful weather, amazing sealife, and the Big Three usually sighted during whale shark tours.
August weather continues to usually be beautiful. August 1st on also flags the beginning of the two-year Pilot of humpback whale swimming tours. Until the whale sharks depart, it is often possible to go swimming with humpback whales, whale sharks and manta rays during your visit to Exmouth… did we mention that you can also go snorkelling on the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef during your tour too?
September and October offers warmer weather, perfect for escaping from Winter down South. Humpback whale swimming and watching tours continue, and in a few years the whale sharks will hang around to swim with too!
When we say the whale sharks leave the Ningaloo, its not all the whale sharks leave the Ningaloo – just most of them. A substantial number remain until much later in the season, whilst there is a strong theory there may be a permanent resident population of Ningaloo Whalesharks.
So even if most of the whale sharks do leave relatively early and have departed before the date you have booked your tour on, we automatically upgrade you to a Humpback Whale Swimming Tour, which includes swimming with any whale sharks our spotter plane can find during your tour too.
Whatever time you visit the Ningaloo, it’s a great place to explore and offers visitors the chance to get up very close and personal to some of the most stunning sealife on the planet.
How long will there be whale sharks to swim with?
Its a good question! Answer is good news and bad news...
Good news is we were swimming with whale sharks well into October in 2016, and two years before that into late September. Bad news was in 2015 the majority of whale sharks had left by mid-late August.
The forecast for this season is for a late finish too (forecasts are getting increasingly accurate:-), so there is a good possibility of swimming with whale sharks into September, though because its Mother Nature we can't guarantee this ever.
In a scientific paper to be published in October 2017, based on tagging programs of whale sharks, it is apparent that there is a permanent population of whale sharks on the Ningaloo year around, whilst the majority arrive for the food pulse and then eventually move on. This is consistent with our experiences in 2016, the first year we were allowed to conduct swimming tours with humpback whales. Only because we had spotter planes in the air looking for humpbacks did we realise that whilst it had initially appeared the whale sharks had left, a goodly number then turned up a week or so later, and stayed around into October.
And more good news is that visitors to Exmouth in August onwards now have a great fallback position, with the confirmation that the humpback whale swimming tours are approved for 2017. Even if most of the whale sharks have left before your visit, your tour is automatically upgraded to a humpback whale swimming tour free of charge. AND you get to swim with any of the remaining whale sharks our spotter plane finds during your tour too.