Sort of swimming (mostly drowning) with Whale Sharks in WA


So, here’s the thing – it’s just too damn blissful around here to even think about the testing notion of writing about it. Life’s hard. No, I’m kidding, it’s really not but with the chill-out levels raised to dangerously high it can be frustrating – having too much of a good time to have time to make notes about it so you’re older self can remember how vivacious and wild you were is an even greater injustice than having not done any of it in the first place. What if I forget how it felt to swim with turtles for the first time or six reef sharks at a cleaning station or how about swimming with the biggest fish in the ocean – the whale shark? It’s becoming a casual thing to pop into the water and see turtles, to swim around with the schools of fish in the coral just strokes away from the sand. The life that I’m immersed in is unachievable almost anywhere else in the world. I’m here and I’m living it and the shame is that sometimes you forget how hard you worked to get here and how absolutely beautiful it is, and time starts slipping by.

cat foley coral bay whale shark swim migration media australia west coast

As I write this, it’s been twelve weeks to the day since Rachel and I swam with three whale sharks. In the process of doing so, I almost inhaled half of the ocean and ate most of the pink floating coral spawn usually enjoyed by the filter feeders such as the whale shark (my friend beautifully calls it, ‘coral jizz’..mmm, thanks for that, Chan). I was stung on every exposed body part by a collection of tiny jellies, as I swam ferociously with my butt breaching through the waves after the whale shark. It only took a good thirty seconds after the panic ensued to keep up with that fish and I’ve lost Rachel, my go pro has flooded; after what I can describe as a fin assault by at least three bewildered snorkelers jumping in the water in reckless abandon on hearing the horn. And it’s no wonder really, the horn signals to the lead swimmer that the whale shark is close by – so go find it and let us know exactly where. Shortly after a hand goes up in the air from the water and this essentially means, ‘let the chaos commence’. So, abandon most, if not all, of your natural instincts whilst they scream at you not to throw your body in the middle of the ocean, with its wild swell and unknown depths, right into the path of the largest bloody fish in the ocean. To me it becomes understandable, even perhaps forgivable providing no one dies, that people enter a, ‘fuck you’, ‘do or die’ kind of fight or flight mode. Fins in face, arms grabbing your legs and pushing, tugging and pulling you out of the way, cutting you up with go pros – ladies and gentlemen, we have entered into the water with a really big fish and a whole bunch of hungry sharks (in wetsuits).

cat foley coral bay whale shark swim migration media australia west coast

But let’s set the scene properly with the a little prelude of the current situation we find ourselves in – that is that a juvenile male whale shark, let’s say about 7 maybe 8 meters long, with their mouth wide open, is chasing your bubbles seconds after you’ve jumped into the ocean.

cat foley coral bay whale shark swim migration media australia west coast

So, rewind and we’ve taken our first short walk off the plank for a snorkel and our first taste of the big blue. Of course, we were thrust in using the same, ‘horn’ proceeded by ‘panic’ principals, that left us with snorkels gritted between teeth and resisting the natural urge to hold your nose as you quickly and awkwardly jump into the deep. Disoriented by the snorkel gear and overly fast Aussie instruction, we were ‘frothin’ in all the wrong ways. Having just about surfaced among the wildly flapping fins and go pro frenzy, we endeavoured to make our way through the waves for our guided snorkel through the coral. During this, Rach made it a good five strokes before calling over for the mermaid line (that’s the floating, help me I’m drowning rather a lot, device) and so I’d gone back to see how she was coping; the perfect excuse to catch my breath before a mild panic attack had time to set in. Safe to say we missed the turtle._DSC6195

Though I started this blog on the premise of not remembering, it is safe to say that the experience that day, everything from the people, the way we danced, jumping around the deck with hands waving free as the floor moved from our feet as we landed – so exhilarated from our encounter – the people we met and the whale sharks we swam with, even the turtle I didn’t see, made it pretty much the final piece in the puzzle we were putting together. The final piece was put in place and the jigsaw read, ‘stay in Coral Bay’. So the next day we ditched the flights, rearranged the bus and our accommodation and put to work our lives here for the next few months. Though I never got a second chance at swimming with that magnificent fish, I almost wonder how it could’ve compared to my complete innocence, my underestimation and the sheer overwhelming exhilaration that the combination of them bought to the day. On my last drop I had Jaz, our snorkel pro (since risen up the ranks to esteemed drinking buddy) pull me along next to the whale shark and for some unknown time, but for what felt like a beautifully peaceful and tranquil moment – I’d almost mastered breathing at a ratio of 50:50 salt water to air by this point, so adamant was I to swim with this gigantic fish- that I swam alongside an animal I had never before heard of or known about before arriving in Coral Bay.

cat foley coral bay whale shark swim migration media australia west coast

Humbled by it’s beauty, I realised there’s so much more to see than I could’ve imagined and it’s all going to begin here, on this little fringing reef, in this little settlement in an almost unknown paradise with the best person I could’ve picked to do this journey with. My god, that’s some luck.

cat foley coral bay whale shark swim migration media australia west coast

Special thanks to Ningaloo Reef Dive who took us out on this life affirming adventure and to Migration Media who captured the day so magnificently.



Words by Cat Foley

Images by Aaron Bull for Migration Media All Rights Reserved

You can check out more of Migration Media’s amazing snaps on their Instagram account

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