21 March 2012 by Luke McCormick
The first whale sharks of 2012 have been sighted in the Ningaloo Marine Park and tours offering the chance to swim with the world's largest fish are underway in Exmouth and Coral Bay.
Growing up to 16 metres long, whale sharks are attracted to Ningaloo's warm, pristine water after the mass spawning of coral in March each year.
Whale sharks migrate to the area to feed on krill, while tourists from far and wide visit to experience the incredible thrill of swimming alongside these gentle giants.
The Ningaloo Marine Park in Western Australia's Coral Coast has recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage list and is considered one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks.
Whale shark tours are offered between mid March until early August and sometimes into September if whale sharks are still in the area.
Australia's Coral Coast Chief Executive Officer, Mr David O'Malley said a record number of people swam with whale sharks in 2011.
"More than 17,400 people swam with whale sharks last year, representing an increase of 18 per cent from 2010," Mr O'Malley said.
"We are optimistic that 2012 will prove to be another highly successful season, with people from all corners of the globe expected to converge on Exmouth and Coral Bay to swim with these graceful marine giants.
"Ningaloo continues to consolidate its reputation as being one of the most easily accessible and reliable places in the world to swim with whale sharks.
"Swimming with whale sharks is an awe inspiring experience and should be on everyone's bucket list."
Visitors can also assist with crucial scientific research by sending their holiday snaps of the whale sharks that they encounter at Ningaloo to whaleshark.org. The images are used as part of the Ecocean Join the Dots campaign, and are then analysed to establish whale shark movements, important habitats and population health.