Everything you want to know about Ningaloo Discovery, Whale Sharks, Humpback Whales, Ningaloo Reef and more can be found right here. Have a question? No problem, just contact us. We love to help!

So you’re ready to take the plunge and swim with the biggest fish in the ocean? Why look anywhere else? There’s none quite like us!

Our passion and enthusiasm for what we do is recognised by customers and industry professionals alike, earning us Tripadvisor Certificates of Excellence every year plus multiple Perth Airport WA Tourism Awards including:

-Bronze in Adventure Tourism 2017;

Silver in Adventure Tourism and Bronze in Ecotourism 2016 and

Bronze in Ecotourism 2015!along with a 2015!

Our Whale Shark License was awarded to us. That’s right, we didn’t buy the rights to provide you with this experience, we earned it!

Our license was the first to be released in years and after the hefty process of sifting through many applicants, the Department of Parks and Wildlife decided that due to our high standards, long running reputation in the Eco Tourism industry, our extensive knowledge and our passion for Whale Sharks and the marine environment, we deserved to operate these tours. Team that with a strong and vibrant crew who retain their position with Ningaloo Discovery season after season and it’s clear that this isn’t just our job, it’s everything that we are, and we want to share it all with you.

The Ningaloo Discovery family is always growing (our guests choose to return year after year!) because they trust us, and it’s worth every minute!

Our Boats

We have 2 beautiful boats in the Ningaloo Discovery fleet.

Our pride and joy Windcheetah is a luxurious 60ft sailing catamaran and is the only sailing vessel that is licensed to operate whale shark and humpback whale swim tours. With extensive refurbishments, extended below water swim platform for easy water entry and exit and spacious 360 degree viewing, Windcheetah is the perfect platform for your experience on Ningaloo Reef. Relax on the lounges, grab yourself a bean bag or lay out on the bow trampolines as you spot marine life from the comfort of the most stable boat on the reef. Due to her extra stable design she sits beautifully in the water and the effects of motion sickness are minimal onboard. Windcheetah also carries kayaks and stand up paddle boards allowing guests to enjoy the reef in a variety of ways and don’t forget our famous cargo net that is pulled behind the boat for an ocean spa experience. Windcheetah has everything you need; snorkelling equipment, shade, bathroom facilities and more.

Ningaloo Discovery has earned 2 licences which has allowed us to deliver more opportunities for people to live a once in a lifetime experience. To do this we also have our beautiful big powerboat Australia Blue. 55ft of pure luxury awaits on board this gorgeous vessel with all modern amenities on board. Hang out on the lounges on the fly bridge for a spectacular view of the reef or spread out on the bow. The newly modified swim ladder makes getting in and out of the water very easy and the cabin allows for plenty of shade. Australia Blue also has kayaks and stand up paddle boards for guests to enjoy at one of the many magnificent stops on Ningaloo Reef.

Our Crew

Have we mentioned that as an added bonus your tours are inclusive of the most sought after crew in Western Australia?

Ningaloo Discovery owners Matt Oakley and Sarah Ellis have spent most of their time working hard, and raising standards to where they are today. Quite often your skipper for the day will be half of this dynamic duo! They have decades of experience working the waters of the West Australian coast. They live and breathe this industry.

Over time, we’ve carefully selected what we think are the best and brightest people around! Each and every one of our crew holds a current Senior First Aid Certificate as a minimum, as well as a Bronze Medallion surf lifesaving rescue or Dive Master certification. They have all undertaken Department of Parks and Wildlife training in Whale Shark and Humpback Whale interaction and Cultural Heritage.

We have several qualified and experienced skippers amongst our team, a qualified Marine Specialist onboard every tour to answer any of your marine related queries and highly experienced photographers with top quality underwater camera equipment to capture every part of the day. And don’t forget, you get all the photos for FREE!

Some would say it’s a prerequisite of working with Ningaloo Discovery that you must be an all round awesome person! We don’t just work together, we have our very own little Ningaloo Discovery family and we want to meet you!

Our commitment to Eco Tourism, Marine Conservation and Safety

One of the many things that sets us aside from the rest is our constant validation of our environmental footprint. Owner and director Sarah holds an honours degree in Marine Resource Management and applies her degree in conjunction with our operations. Matt has extensive experience working in Sea Search and Rescue and Marine Safety, so rest assured you are in capable hands.

Ningaloo Discovery is an Advanced Eco Tourism certified company. On each tour we pride ourselves on delivering marine education to those who want to learn!

We aim to conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Ningaloo Reef Marine Park. All staff strive to become guardians and ambassadors of the environment, while enhancing visitor opportunities and experience. Ningaloo Discovery provides an enriching nature based experience combined with sound conservation practices and messages (and of course the adventure!). We strongly endorse the conservation of all things we value in our world.

It’s our job to provide you with the most unforgettable whale shark experience.

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world’s largest fish and is a harmless filter feeding shark. This species is closely related to the bottom-dwelling sharks, which include the wobbegong. The whale shark has a mouth up to 1.5 metres wide, a broad flat head and two small eyes near the front of the head. The body is mostly grey with a white belly. Three ridges run along the side of each animal and there are five large pairs of gills. The skin is marked with lots of spots and stripes. These patterns are unique to each whale shark and can be used to identify each individual animal.

Are Whale Sharks Whales or Sharks?

Whale sharks are a type of shark, not a whale. This is because they breathe through their gills, and have cartilage instead of bone.

Whale sharks inhabit all tropical and warm-temperate seas. They are primarily pelagic meaning that they live in the open sea but not in the greater depths of the ocean. Seasonal feeding aggregations occur at only several coastal sites including the Ninagloo Reef.

They have 5 large pairs of gills and appear grey with a white belly, with a skin of up to 10cm’s thick which is thicker and tougher than any other species. The markings on their skin are pale yellow spots and stripes, which are unique to each individual. We can use these patterns to correctly identify and record sightings of whale sharks worldwide. A juvenile shark will have a larger upper tail fin than its lower fin, while adult tails become somewhat moon-shaped. Male whale sharks can be distinguished by the presence of two claspers near the pelvic fin, which are absent in females.

How Big are Whale Sharks?

They are the largest known living fish species with the largest confirmed length of 12.65m (41.50 ft) and a weight of more than 21.5 tons. It is believed that whale sharks could grow as large as 18m. The most common size of whale shark found on Ningaloo Reef is between 5 and 10m long! Swimming alongside a fish that big is quite awe inspiring!

What do Whale Sharks eat?

Whale sharks have a mouth that can be 1.5m wide containing up to 350 rows of tiny teeth and 10 filter pads, which it uses to filter feed. The whale shark is one of only three known filter feeding shark species. They have sensory cells in the nasal grooves above the mouth, which help the shark detect food in the water. It feeds on macroalgae, plankton, krill, Christmas Island red crab larvae and small nektonic life, such as small squid or vertebrates. It also feeds on small fish and the clouds of eggs and sperm during mass spawning of fish. Their movement patterns are appear to be linked with spawning of coral and plankton blooms, which explains their presence in Ningaloo following the mass spawning of coral each year in these waters.

Whale sharks feed either by ram filtration, where the animal opens its mouth and swims forward, pushing water and food into the mouth, or by active suction feeding, where the animal opens and closes its mouth, sucking in volumes of water that are then expelled through the gills. In both cases, the filter pads serve to separate food from water. These unique, black sieve-like structures are presumed to be modified gill rakers. Whale sharks have on occasion been observed “coughing”, presumably to clear a build-up of particles from the filter pads.

What is the Life Cycle of a Whale Shark?

It is believed they reach sexual maturity at around 30 years and their lifespan has been estimated to be between 70 and 180 years. Mating behaviors of whale sharks haven’t yet been observed, but it is believed that the eggs remain in the body and the females give birth to live young, which are 40-60cm long. Evidence has indicated that pups are not all born at once, but rather the female retains sperm from one mating and produces a steady stream of pups over a prolonged period. Only one pregnant whale sharks has ever been recorded, she was found to be carrying over 300 baby whale sharks, all at different stages of development!

How many whale sharks are there in the world?

The population of the whale shark is unknown and the species is considered vulnerable by the IUCN. Ongoing research will help us learn more about these amazing animals. Australia plays an important role in the conservation and protection of this migratory species. Ningaloo Reef Marine Park represents one of the few strongholds in the world for this magnificent, gentle giant of the deep.

Whale Shark Conservation

The whale shark is protected in Australian waters under State, Commonwealth and international legislation and it is illegal to disturb, harm or fish for whale sharks. The population of whale sharks is unknown and the species is listed as vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species .

Taking whale sharks is banned in most countries but illegal fishing still exists. In Taiwan, whale sharks are known as ‘Tofu fish’ because of the taste and texture of their flesh, and their fins can fetch up to US$15,000 on the black market for use in shark fin soup. Whale sharks are also vulnerable to boat strikes as they often swim at the surface. Though little is known about natural threats to whale sharks, predatory sharks and killer whales have been known to attack them and there have been two reports of juvenile whale shark tissue in a blue marlin and blue shark.

When snorkelling or diving with whale sharks you must stay three metres away from the animal’s head and four metres away from the tail, and do not touch the whale shark or use flash photography. If you are taking a picture try to photograph the whale’s left side behind the gills, then send it to www.whaleshark.org  so it can be added to a global database. Whale shark researchers will then try to match your image with other photos sent in by people around the world, to try to shed some light on where whale sharks go when they leave our waters, which means you’ll be doing your bit to help protect and understand these amazing creatures.

The humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) is the fifth largest of the great whales. Its scientific name comes from the Greek word mega meaning ‘great’ and pteron meaning ‘a wing’, because their large front flippers can reach a length of five metres, about one-third of their entire body length! They are named humpbacks because of the distinct ‘hump’ that shows as the whale arches its back when it dives.

Humpback Whale Migration

From June the Australian humpback whales migrate northwards along the Western Australian coast to their tropical calving grounds in the Kimberley (their bedroom) and between September and November they begin travelling south to their feeding grounds in Antarctic (their kitchen).

What do Humpback Whales eat?

Humpbacks are ‘baleen’ whales, so instead of teeth they have 270-400 baleen plates which hang from the top jaw. They feed by taking big gulps of water and filtering shrimp-like krill and small fish between these plates. Humpbacks can consume nearly one tonne of food each day. Humpbacks use a hunting technique known as ‘bubble netting’. They swim in a spiral underneath a school of fish or krill blowing lots of bubbles. This creates a net of bubbles that traps a giant mass of krill. They then swim up the centre with their mouths open and have a huge feast on their favourite food.

How big are Humpback Whales?

Males humpback whales average 14.6 metres and females 15.2 metres long. The maximum length is 18 metres and a mature adult may weigh up to 45 tonnes.

What is the Life Cycle of a Humpback Whale?

Humpback whales have a life expectancy of 45 to 50 years. After a 12 month pregnancy, calves are born five metres long and weighing about 1.5 tonnes. They drink around 240 litres of milk per day and the suckling calf can gain more than 45 kilograms a day during the first few weeks of its life. Nursing ends at about 11 months, when the calf can be up to nine metres long.

Humpback Whale Conservation

Humpback whales are threatened and specially protected under the Wildlife Conservation Act.

In the past, humpback whales were heavily exploited by commercial whalers all around the world, hunted for their oil, meat and whalebone. Hunting was banned in 1963 after the species became nearly extinct. In 2007, the Japanese proposed to resume killing the humpback for so-called ‘scientific purposes’, but gave them a last-minute reprieve. Other threats to humpback whales include them ingesting plastic, which accumulates in their gut and leads to a slow death, and becoming entangled in crayfish lines and pots. Supported by the Department of Parks and Wildlife, the Western Rock Lobster Council has introduced a Code of Practice to help reduce whale entanglements. Natural predators include killer whales which prey on the young humpback calves.

How you can protect the humpback whale? Follow the whale watchers code. Boats should not approach closer than 100 metres to a whale, a vessel should not separate a group or mother and calf and, if you are in the water and a whale approaches, you must stay at least 30 metres from the whale. If you should spot a whale that is stranded or entangled in rope or fishing gear call the Wildcare Helpline so the department’s specially trained staff can help the animal.

About the Ningaloo Reef

The Reef

The Ningaloo Marine Park is one of the longest fringing reefs in the world stretching 300 kilometres, and is one of two coral reefs in the world that have formed on the western side of a continent. What makes the Ningaloo Reef great is its close proximity from the coast in many areas being only 5-10 metres offshore. It contains an endless list of spectacular snorkel and dive sites for you to explore. Its abundance of extraordinary marine life is what brings us, and thousands of people to this special slice of paradise. Below you’ll find some information on some of the Wildlife you can expect to encounter.

The coral in the Ningaloo Reef act as a vital source of coral larvae dispersing through the Abrolhos Islands, and even to Rottnest Island. Both soft and hard coral are native to the area, from cabbage corals, brain corals and lavender corals to delicate colourful branching corals, which form gardens in the shallow lagoons. Ningaloo Marine Park boasts an endless list of molluscs, crustaceans, algae and over 500 species of the most decorated and revered tropical fish in the world can be found including giant potato cod, sweetlip, spangled emperor and lionfish just to name a few.

Ningaloo Marine Life


Mantas were re-classified as two separate species in 2009; the Oceanic Manta and the Reef Manta. The two have many similarities but their biggest difference is their size. The Oceanic Manta has been recorded at a great length of up to 7 metres! In the Ningaloo Reef we often encounter Reef Manta Rays which can grow up to 4 metres wide (wing tip to wing tip), which is still a very big fish.

Manta Rays are closely related to both sharks and rays, and are completely harmless and safe to swim with as their tails have evolved past possessing any barbs, which means they do not have the ability to sting.

Manta Rays can often be found playing in groups or feeding as they swim through the water with their massive mouth agape, while ‘paddle-like’ cephalic fins funnel plankton rich water through specially modified gills. Some Manta Rays Barrel Roll themselves backwards in an attempt to feast on densely concentrated patches of plankton, while others bottom feed by scooping up plankton along the seabed which has fallen in order to avoid predation, or surface feeding along the surface of the water exposing their backs to the sky. Manta Rays are cooperative creatures and when dense areas of Plankton are found can feed in chains, with smaller Mantas even hitching rides on a larger Manta’s back.

Manta Rays also have extremely large brains in comparison to their size, and a much larger area in which the brain inhabits. This is often responsible for many higher functions, including increased sensory functions. The weight of a Manta Rays brain is more than that of a similar sized mammal and is even the largest brain of all fish by absolute weight! That’s one smart fish. Much more research is needed on these animals, if you would like to learn more head over to The Manta Trust webpage for nearly everything you need to know about Manta Rays, and how you can do your part in their conservation.


During the months of November, December and January they begin nesting along the shores and islands of the Ningaloo Reef. Turtles nest in the very same place that they were born which means some turtles may travel huge distances just to lay their eggs. For this reason there are many volunteers who monitor these beaches and protect eggs as they hatch come February/March time.

For more information on how to volunteer the team over at The Ningaloo Turtle Program work in conjunction with the Cape Conservation Group, the Department of Parks and Wildlife, Murdoch University, and WWF Australia and are always in search of keen environmentalist enthusiasts to help with the protection of these animals.


These mammals can stay under water and hold their breath for up to six minutes before surfacing and have been known to breathe while standing on their own tail with their head out of the water. `

They are generally found alone or in pairs, can grow up to 3 metres, and weigh up to nearly 500kg, with a lifespan of up to 70 years! Dugongs are classified as extremely vulnerable extinction risk by the World Wildlife Fund so encountering a dugong is quite a special occasion as they are extremely shy creatures.

Ningaloo's Best Snorkelling Spots

More than 500 tropical fish species inhabit the 300 kilometre long reef. They live in and around more than 200 species of coral. Lakeside, Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks provide great snorkelling from the shore and there are kayak moorings at Bundegi Beach, Osprey Bay and Tantabiddi. Make sure you follow the instructional signs and get advice from Milyering Visitors Centre regarding tides and currents before snorkelling.

Marine Life Seasons

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Canyons and Yardie Creek

Located adjacent to Ningaloo Marine Park, Cape Range National Park boasts spectacular rocky gorges carved by ancient rivers that adjoin one of the most pristine and beautiful coastlines in the world.

A highlight to any Cape Range experience is a trip to Yardie Creek, which flows between sheer cliffs. Guided boat tours are available for visitors to enjoy the tranquillity of the gorge and view the wildlife in its natural setting.

The park covers 50,581 hectares and its northern boundary is just 40 kilometres (or 45 minutes) from Exmouth.

Over 700 caves are catalogued in the area and it is likely that many remain undiscovered. There are numerous gorges and sanctuary areas that provide a haven for wildlife and contain rare and unusual flora.

Cape Range National Park offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors interested in the natural environment. You’ll find particularly scenic wildflower viewing areas at Mandu Mandu Gorge, Shothole Canyon, Charles Knife Canyon and Yardie Creek Gorge.

There are two unsealed but fully formed roads that run from the Minilya-Exmouth Road into the Cape Range National Park. These provide spectacular scenic drives with bush walking opportunities.

Shothole Canyon Road – The access road to Shothole Canyon turns off the Minilya-Exmouth Road, 14km south of Exmouth. The canyon was named after the shotholes left by the explosive charges detonated to trigger miniature earthquakes for seismographic studies during the oil searches in the 1950s.

The rough gravel track meanders over dry creek beds along the gorge floor and offers visitors close examination of the colourful rock layers of the sheer canyon walls. At the end of the 15km track there is a picnic area and a short walking trail. Note: Shothole Canyon Road is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only.

Charles Knife Gorge Road – This scenic drive turns west off the Minilya-Exmouth Road, 21km south of town. The mostly gravel road follows the razor-backed ridges of the range and provides breathtaking downward views into the stark, multicoloured gorges. There are several lookout points that provide fantastic photo opportunities and a marked walking trail from Thomas Carter Lookout. Conditions of the walk trail depend on rainfall. Please contact the Department of Parks & Wildlife for a walk trail guide for the Cape Range National Park.

Caution should be taken when bushwalking in the canyon areas as walls are steep and can be dangerous due to loose surfaces. Don’t go on your own – always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Cave areas are unsafe due to oxygen deficiency – for your own safety please remain on existing walking trails. Avoid walking in the middle of the day and always carry water as there is almost no surface water in the Cape Range.

Flora and Fauna

Wildlife is abundant with a variety of birds, emus, echidnas, lizards, wallabies, kangaroos and dingoes commonly sighted. Cape Range offers a variety of attractions and activities for visitors interested in the natural environment.

In ancient times the range was isolated as an island as rising sea levels inundated lower lying areas. As a result of this geographic isolation, there are some species of plants and animals that are endemic to the area, including the white centred variety of the Sturt’s Desert Pea. Surveys have recorded over 630 species of flowering plants on the peninsula and within the Cape Range National Park. This is a surprisingly high number for an arid limestone area.

Fauna found within the park include rock wallabies, red kangaroos, emus, euros, 100 different species of bird and 80 species of reptile.

Camping in the park

There are in excess of 120 camping bays along the western shore of the Cape Range National Park, most of which are accessible via conventional vehicle. These sites are managed by the Department of Parks & Wildlife (DPaW) and offer easy access to the coast for swimming, snorkelling, fishing and other activities.

Caravans and larger vehicles are welcome, however, there are few facilities – no power, water or cooking facilities. Many of the sites have toilets and picnic tables but you must be fully self-sufficient. Note: no wood fires or pets are permitted in the Cape Range National Park. Due to the arid nature of the country it is essential to bring your own water.

All Cape Range National Park camp sites can be booked online at: www.parkstay.dpaw.wa.gov.au. There is a DPaW employee ranger stationed at the park from 8am all year round to assist visitors entering the park. For more information, please contact the local DPaW office on Ph: (08) 9947 8000.

Exmouth Town and History

Dutch sailors were the first recorded Europeans to visit the North West Cape. Haevik van Hillegom recorded sighting the Cape in 1618, while Willem de Vlamingh charted the headland that bears his name in 1696. Australia’s own Phillip Parker King visited in 1818, naming both the Cape and the Exmouth Gulf.

The wreck of the SS Mildura in 1907 led directly to the construction of the Vlaming Head Lighthouse, which commenced operation in December 1912. However, an electric beacon on Tower 11 in the US Naval Communications VLF radar array has long since replaced the light.

Pastoralists brought cattle to the region, and pearlers and fishermen visited the Gulf, but it was not until World War II that the Cape began to be settled in a broader fashion. During the war the Learmonth Airport was used as a defence base by the Royal Australian Air Force. The Potshot Base which was positioned close to the Learmonth Airport was bombed by the Japanese during the War. These bases were eventually used in the pioneering search for oil in the 1950s, which resulted in Australia’s first oil “strike” on land, in the Rough Range (south of Learmonth).

Despite this activity there was still no town established on the Cape and it was not until the United States Navy began to build the Communication Station late in 1963 that construction commenced in Exmouth. Four years later the town was officially opened on September 16th 1967, on the same day the Base was commissioned.

When the base was run and maintained by the US Navy they provided everything and anything to make their Navy personnel feel at home. Up to 200 American Cars with left hand drive were flown and shipped over to Exmouth for American families. They were treated to all American foods and traditions including playing their National Anthem every day at 8.00am and then again at 6.00pm. Residents of Exmouth both American and Australian had both American and Australian public holidays including Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and Halloween. Residents of Exmouth consider the interaction between our two nations during the 1960’s to 1990’s to be an exceptionally happy time and an unparalleled success. On 1st October 1992 full command of the base was passed from the United States Navy to the Royal Australian Navy however the military partnership between the two forces is still as strong today as it was then.

Exmouth Local Attractions

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Exmouth Weather

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The Ningaloo coast is part of the Baiyungu, Yinikurtira and Thalanyji peoples’ traditional land and sea country and maintains significant cultural values.

The name Ningaloo is a West Thalanyji*Jinigudira *Yinigudura *Yinkutura word meaning ‘deep water’ and was recorded in the 1800’s. Other groups have meanings that vary depending on the people and area of that language group. These people are coastal dwellers and as such have a long relationship between the Thalanyji aboriginal people from the Ashburton River (MINDEROO) area at Old Onslow.

The coastal environments of the Ningaloo region and conservation of the marine life and coast is critical to the culture and identity of the traditional owners that are represented by the North West Cape Exmouth Aboriginal Corporation (NWCEAC – ICN:4268), the Traditional Owners and Custodians John Dale and his sister Janeen Dale and their families.

The West Thalanyji people (Yinigudura etc) continue to hunt, fish, gather, camp and perform ceremonies, visit sites of spriritual importance, and pass on knowledge about the land and their traditions. The ocean, the estuaries, rivers, creeks and springs, and tidal areas are immeasurably important parts of West Thalanyji spritiual life.

Conservation efforts and programs

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How can I get involved?

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