Department of Parks adn Wildlife

The whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the world's largest living fish.

It is Western Australia's marine animal emblem and is protected in Australian waters under both state and federal law.

Despite their huge size, these gentle giants are harmless filter feeders that cruise the world's oceans looking for plankton.

Ningaloo Marine Park is one of only a few places in the world where whale sharks appear regularly in near-shore waters in numbers, where they are easily accessible to observers

Whale shark

Whale shark
Photo © Parks and Wildlife

Whale sharks reach up to 18 metres long, but at Ningaloo Marine Park they are generally between two and 12 metres in length.


Play your part

Kids: find out more about whale sharks at or watch a whale shark swimming

Management plan

pdfWhale shark management with particular reference to Ningaloo Marine Park 3.19 MB)

Whale shark research and monitoring

Whale sharks are difficult to study because, despite their huge size, they tend to be solitary, travel great distances, and appear sporadically.

To better protect whale sharks it is crucial that we increase our understanding of their biology, ecology, movement patterns and life history.

Photo ID

Whale sharks have characteristic patterns of white spots and stripes on a dark blue background on their dorsal surface.


Short and long-term movements and behaviours of whale sharks are being investigated using telemetry. This involves attaching a radio or satellite transmitter to the whale shark, then tracking the shark's movement over a period of time. Many different types of tag have been used:

All tagging is carried out under permit and within animal ethics guidelines.

Tissue sampling

Scientists collect tissue samples annually from whale sharks at Ningaloo to contribute to global studies on whale shark genetics.  They can determine whether Ningaloo whale sharks are related to those in other areas of the world.  These samples can also help determine what whale sharks are feeding on, by analysing the fatty acids in the tissues. 

Swimming with whale sharks

Swimming with whale sharks is an exciting and rewarding experience. These huge yet gentle giants visit Ningaloo Marine Park, off the north-west coast of Western Australia, between March and July each year. Their seasonal visits have led to the development of an increasingly popular, ecotourism industry.

Whale shark
Whale shark - Photo © Tourism WA

Parks and Wildlife is responsible for protecting and managing whale sharks in Western Australian waters.

Visitors wanting to swim with whale sharks in Ningaloo Marine Park have increased in number from just 1,000 in 1993 to over 27,000 in 2016.

The department has therefore introduced a licensing system to manage commercial operations within Ningaloo Marine Park and reduce disturbance to whale sharks.

Interaction protocols

To ensure you have a safe, enjoyable experience, and to prevent the animals from being harmed or disturbed, 
you must follow the interaction protocol when interacting with whale sharks.

Exclusive contact zone

whale shark zone
Whale shark vessel contact zone

Vessel operators in the contact zone:

Commercial tour operators operate under similar requirements to other vessels but specific licence conditions also apply to their operation.

Swimmers in the contact zone must not:

whale shark zone

A Closed Season Notice published under the Wildlife Conservation Act sets out rules for the protection of whale sharks, which must be followed by both commercial and private vessels when they are within the "exclusive contact zone".

Reducing disturbance

Whale sharks can be disturbed by uncontrolled snorkelling and vessel activities, and may display avoidance behaviours such as banking, diving, eye rolling and changing speed or direction in response to swimmers and boats.

Generally, the best way to enjoy a whale shark experience is to participate in a tour with experienced and trained whale shark tour operators, who are able to locate the sharks and correctly apply the code of conduct. This will give you a greater chance to:

Further information

If you would like further information, or can provide details to Parks and Wildlife about sightings or interaction with whale sharks, please contact:

20 Nimitz Street,
PO Box 201
Western Australia 6707
Telephone: (08) 9947 8000
Fax: (08) 9947 8050
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Cape Range National Park
Tel/Fax: (08) 9949 2808

Mardie Road
Karratha Industrial Estate
Karratha WA 6714
Tel: (08) 9143 1488
Fax: (08) 9144 1118