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Giant Spotty Fish

Diving off Australia?s Ningaloo Reef

“Marlin,” yells Craig. We watch as a silvery blue fin slices through the ocean. Seconds later, a duo of manta ray fin tips break surface. “I’m going in, I have to get some video of the mantas” says Suzie. A seven meter whale shark cruises 20 meters away and we’re torn between snorkeling with the whale shark or mantas. The whale shark was bigger, so it won our attention.



We were soon snorkelling with the “great spotty fish,” as Merran, our whale shark spotter, loves to call them.

It all starts happening in April, after the corals spawn along the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, creating a huge food source for the whale sharks and mantas. The whale sharks start gathering along the 260 kilometer-long reef which extends from Amherst Point in the south, past Exmouth in the north. The whale sharks usually stay until the end of June but this year have stayed to mid August. There were so many whale sharks that we saw six different whale sharks in one day.

The whale sharks dominate the diving scene in Exmouth, as it is one of the few places on earth where you can reliably see them. A lucrative eco- tourism industry has developed around the whale sharks.
 
Each shark is different. Some are small and fast, others are big and slow, some have entourages of snow white remoras and others carry cobia (black kingfish) which swim alongside. Some have ragged tails and some display sizeable shark bites, possibly from Tiger sharks or Orcas.

The whale sharks are awe-inspiring, but if you’re a scuba diver, spend a few days exploring the Ningaloo Reefs. They are rich, colorful and quite different than the Great Barrier Reef. There’s lots of hard and soft corals with a generous sprinkling of bright ascidians and sponges, providing a unique habitat for unusual marine animals.

The endless procession of five-lined snappers poking about in the sand give the reef a special quality. Some people ask: “Do you think it’s as good as the Great Barrier Reef? I answer it’s just as good because it’s so different. The Ningaloo Reef is also much closer to shore compared to the Great Barrier Reef, which usually takes a 30 minute boat ride to reach the reef. At Ningaloo’s Turquoise Bay, you can see coral reef, 10 meters from the beach.

Ningaloo Reef is home to many Indo-Pacific reef species. We saw gaudy parrotfish, species I had never seen before, black catfish, Indo-Pacific dolphins and cod. Rarely have I seen so many different cod species on the Great Barrier Reef. Many green turtles and white-tip reef sharks slept in caves. One shark even had its mouth wide-open, being cleaned by several large cleaner wrasse – a rare sighting!

Most of the scuba diving, whale sharking and fishing charters are based in Exmouth, which runs shuttle buses to Bundegi Beach (12 kilometres from Exmouth) or Tantabiddi, where you board the large boats via a transfer in a rubber ducky.

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