The short answer is yes - when it’s done right, absolutely.
But the truth is, not all whale shark tourism has these creatures’ best interests in mind, let alone the environment. Before you book your whale shark experience - it’s important to check that the swim is both ethical and environmentally sustainable.
Many of you might be wondering: is swimming with whale sharks ethical? Here we’ll look at why it’s important to ensure your whale shark tour is ethical and give you some tips on how to make your whale shark experience as ethical as possible.
What is ethical tourism?
Ethical tourism is something of a buzzword these days. But what does it actually mean?
At its core, ethical tourism means taking care of the environment, the community and the economy when on holiday. In practice, it means taking responsibility for the protection of the ecosystems around you so they are sustained for future generations to enjoy.
With a unique and stunning environment, many communities throughout Australia rely on tourism as their main source of income. Ethical tourism is one of the best ways you can support these communities and the natural world at the same time.
If you’re not sure whether an activity is ethical or not - you can always ask yourself:
- Is this activity harming or preserving the natural environment?
- Am I supporting local culture, or degrading it?
- Are my actions helping the economy or creating an unhealthy dependency?
- Is this tour operator caring for the environment or just focused on money?
Understanding whale sharks at Ningaloo
Whale sharks aren’t at Ningaloo because they’re lured in by humans or fed fish by tourists.
They’re there because it’s part of the natural habitat - along with whales, sea turtles, rays and countless other species that call the ocean home. Whale sharks migrate to WA’s warm waters around Ningaloo to feed on plankton, krill and other tiny fish. They are also extremely friendly creatures and make the perfect swimming companions.
Ningaloo Reef is a world heritage site and is a protected area - making this the perfect location to interact with these friendly giants.
What does an ethical whale shark swim look like?
Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most magical experiences you will have. They are the largest fish in the ocean, and certainly one of the most beautiful. And while these friendly creatures are completely safe, it’s good to remember that they’re wild animals living in their natural habitat and should be treated with respect.
So is swimming with whale sharks ethical?
It’s our priority at Three Islands Whale Shark Dive to ensure that it is. It’s our job to make sure these gentle giants and their environment are protected.
On our whale shark yours, we always take care to:
- keep an appropriate distance of 3-4 metres at all times;
- move slowly and carefully, avoiding sudden movements that could frighten them;
- stay clear of their path through the water;
- refrain from flash photography (we’ll take pictures for you!)
- not feed the whale sharks - they’re perfectly capable of finding their own food.
We are eco-certified by Ecotourism Australia; this certification displays our commitment to sustainable practices and in providing a high-quality nature-based experience.
Want to learn more about how to swim with whale sharks? Check out our blog which teaches everything you should know before diving in.
Whale sharks call Ningaloo Home. We’re making sure it stays that way.
Even though we see plenty of whale sharks migrating to Ningaloo every year, they are still technically an endangered species. That means that whenever we come in contact with a whale shark we need to be respectful of it and its environment.
Here at Three Islands Whale Shark Dive, we take our environmental obligations seriously. Here’s a peek into the measures we’re taking to ensure every tour we run has a positive outcome for everyone, whale sharks included:
- Reducing our environmental footprint by minimising our emissions wherever possible
- Improving our environmental performance - whether it’s through meeting or exceeding local standards, laws and industry codes of practice.
- Monitoring the impact of tourism on the marine environment and ensuring tours are adapted accordingly.
If you want to find out about these and other steps we are taking to prove our environmental performance, check out our environmental protection policy.
When is swimming with whale sharks unethical?
Swimming with whale sharks is not the same experience around the world. At Ningaloo, we are lucky enough to have a near-pristine natural environment protected against the harmful effects of the fishing industry and other polluting industries. Importantly though, Western Australia has the luxury of expert conservationists being charged with ensuring that their well-being is prioritised.
Elsewhere, like in Oslob in the Philippines, the situation isn’t so rosy. Large and unsustainable amounts of tourists pack out boats that prey on whale sharks by luring them in with food that is not supposed to be part of their natural diet. Picture 50 people all with brightly coloured life vests plunging into the water to grab a selfie is not exactly what you call ethical.
Why choose Three Islands Whale Shark Dive?
Thinking of joining us at Ningaloo Reef this whale shark season? Our expert team of tour operators can't wait to meet you. With years of experience navigating these waters, our whale shark tours Exmouth open your eyes to the world's largest fish and the abundance of marine life beneath the water's surface.
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