Exmouth was a big bucket list item for me, my whale shark dive. Something I had been wanting to do for as long as we had been seriously talking about our ‘Big Lap’ trip. After checking into a Big 4 CP in town on Thursday 7th May – Mum’s Birthday (where, for some reason, the kids were free), we popped off to the local IGA to stock up. We made good use of the camp kitchen, with Kris whipping up a delicious roast chook. Next morning, I was at reception, ready to be picked up at 07:20. A young Welsh girl, very full of beans, greeted myself and the other punters very warmly, giving us facts and figures about Exmouth, it’s military history, and of course, everything she knew about the relatively enigmatic whale shark.
Did you know, for example, that Exmouth was set up specifically to support the VLF (Very Low Frequency) submarine communications station during the cold war, manned entirely by Americans, with only US currency on the base, and following on from our triskaidekaphobic Friday the 13th debacle at Fitzgerald River NP, the Americans installed the towers numbered from 0 to 12, and not 1 to 13! Still, the tallest tower is 387m high – now that is impressive! The personnel left in 1992, and in true US style, left everything behind – including (so the story goes), musical instruments and a working bowling alley.
Sooo, onto the whale sharks. With a full bus of 20 or so, we pulled into a little wharf a little past the lighthouse, and were ferried out to the dive boat, which was complete with upper deck fly bridge. I was in a mild panic, having completely forgotten my PADI SCUBA licence. Without it, I would not be doing my scheduled SCUBA dive before the whale shark swim. Kris was magnificent, she corralled the kids, drove to the tour operators office in town, and got them to sight my licence so it could be verified and radioed ahead to the tour’s pilot. She also sent a photo through on her phone and via email. The microwave gods must have smiled on me, because, perched precariously above the fly bridge, arm outstretched, I picked up her email with one pip of reception where the staff assured me there would be none. So, dive assured, I returned downstairs to hear more about the days proceedings. Only two others did a dive (the rest did an introductory snorkel to sort the metaphorical snorkelling ‘wheat from the chaff’).
We only went to 15 m, which meant plenty of coral, sharks, turtles, a lion fish, nudibranchs, schools of hundreds of BIG fish and even a monster 1.5m groper – real aquarium stuff. Whilst near the bottom, I noticed water in my GoPro housing – egads! So, thinking it was toast, I did the rest of the dive with the lens facing downwards to try to protect the memory card. Back on the surface, I opened the case, drained the water out, retrieved the card and wrapped the lot in tissue paper. After a night drying out in rice, everything worked, and no footage was lost – kudos to you Mr GoPro!
After the dive/introductory snorkel, we were then in the hands of the pilot 1000 ft above. They spot the whalesharks and direct the boats. The story goes that only recently, another tour group (of course it was a competitor) were dropped in the water with a 5m ‘whaleshark’, when they were all in the water patiently waiting for their fish to come past – along swims a 5m tiger shark – I think they got back in the boat rather quickly. Tiger sharks have stripes, whale sharks have dots, an easy mistake from 300m above! Our first drop was with a 6m long female, in a bit of a hurry, so I didn’t get much more than a glance. The next whaleshark however, whilst slightly smaller, was curious and was swimming more slowly, and we actually had to move out of his way as he turned around to check us out.
After morning tea, the skipper said their plane had spotted a Manta and did we want to jump in with it! So we ended up with about 15 minutes in the water with a stunning black-on-black manta, which pirouetted around us in the crystal clear water before lazily swimming off.
We all thought that was it, but they spotted one last whaleshark in about 60m of water, this one was a whopper, a little over 10m long, but we all had a good look as it swam past. A brilliant day, perfect weather, calm seas, a great crew and worth every cent). I felt slightly guilty having this to myself whilst Kris and the boys were back in town, shopping for our next week away from supplies at Cape Range NP, but in reality, you have to be a pretty strong swimmer to keep up with these giants, otherwise you get left behind until picked up by the boat. That night, we enjoyed delicious fish and chips in town before I took my spent chicken legs to bed.