Whale expert urges caution
For the first time, tour operators in Western Australia have commenced offering dives with the humpback whales. A four-month trial will allow charter boats in Exmouth and Coral Bay to take people out to dive with the whales on Ningaloo Reef.
"The reality is that humpback whales can be a cantankerous animal. "
Curt Jenner ,Centre for Whale Research
However, a whale expert has urged a cautious approach to the interactions. Centre for Whale Research managing director Curt Jenner said humpbacks have a completely different temperament to whale sharks, presenting a big challenge to tour operators.
"The reality is that humpback whales can be a cantankerous animal. At this time of year, the males are fairly pumped up with testosterone and so they'll react to things around them, often in an aggressive way," Jenner said.
Regardless, Jenner has confidence in the people managing the tours. "The operators that are conducting the tours are very skilled in approaching various animals and of course over the years they've seen a lot of humpback whales in this area," he said. "There's certainly the possibility [of an incident] but given the experience of the operators, I'd like to think that they wouldn't put their passengers in a position of risk."
Environment Minister Albert Jacob was optimistic the new venture would boost the area's profile and extend the tourism season. "The humpback whales really arrive in large numbers toward the end of the whale shark season, the two slot in quite nicely next to each other," he said. "So rather than only having a three or four-month peak season for visitation for large water creatures, you can now push that out for six or seven months."
However, Jenner remains a little more skeptical. "As a long-term industry it remains to be seen as to how successful it will be in terms of being able to get consistent interactions," he said. "I suspect the whales will just swim away in most cases".