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Whale shark season draws international tourists back to Ningaloo Reef

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Fraser WilliamsMidwest Times
Bookings are filling up for Ningaloo Reef whale shark tours.
Camera IconBookings are filling up for Ningaloo Reef whale shark tours. Credit: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

Whale shark season is already making a splash, with international tourists coming back to Exmouth in force for the first time since COVID closed Australia’s borders.

Whale sharks make the trip along the Ningaloo Reef each year and with them comes many tourists who help bolster the local economy.

Ningaloo Discovery owner Sarah Ellis said the season was off to a strong start, with overseas travellers already visiting the reef.

“We had multiple whale sharks from the first day out there,” she said.

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“We’re back to sort of pre-COVID times with international tourists I’d say — our boats have been basically full every day, it’s been a great start.

“Our sailing catamaran, which is probably our most popular vessel, she doesn’t have many spaces through until after the July school holidays.”

The industry was supported during the border closure by locals coming to experience the tourist attraction for themselves.

“We were lucky enough to benefit from regional customers for the 2020-21 season. We saw West Australians come to experience it in their own State,” Ms Ellis said.

“In 2022 (when national border restrictions were relaxed), we had the rest of the country starting coming over and checking out Ningaloo Reef and the whale sharks, and I get a feeling that we’re set up for a lot more international (visitors) this season.”

Ms Ellis recommended locals who wanted to experience the tours for themselves come during the shoulders of the peak.

“It’s really nice during the shoulder seasons; we’ve got beautiful weather at the moment, we’ve got lots of different whale sharks out there and it’s a little bit more relaxed when you’re not coming right in the middle of peak season,” she said.

Ms Ellis said the influx of tourists would help support businesses across the whole of WA.

“I think it will be great for the whole State … Exmouth is a little bit limited in its accommodation options, so they’re really spreading it out along the whole coral coast on the way up,” she said.

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