Sea the key in Exmouth tourism boom

Shannon BeattiePilbara News
VideoSunrise given special permission to film whales with a drone off WA coast.

The days of Exmouth becoming a ghost town in summer could be coming to an end, with the rise of humpback whale and eco tours helping keep tourist and residential numbers up all year round.

The trial of humpback whale swims is in its third year and Live Ningaloo owner-operator Murray Pattison said the tours had added an extra three months of business to companies that previously only operated from April-July.

“With whale shark season, people used to come here for four or five months and then leave, but with the addition of humpbacks it’s now essentially eight months long, and instead of going away over the summer, people are staying here,” he said.

The humpback whale trial had its challenges in 2017 because the State Government altered the definition of a whale calf from half the size of its mother to two-thirds.

People swimming with Humpback Whales in Exmouth.
Camera IconPeople swimming with Humpback Whales in Exmouth. Credit: Chris Jansen / Live Ningaloo

Mr Pattison said the change limited the interactions people could have in the water.

“In the month of October we really only have mums and calves going down the humpback highway, and the calves are usually bigger than half but not quite two-thirds the size,” he said.

However, in 2018, the definition was changed back to the worldwide standard, and business this year has boomed as a result.

“The size definition gives us an extra month of business — it allows us to be consistent and at this time of year we should get a swim every day,” Mr Pattison said.

It’s not just swimming companies benefiting from the extended season, with other tour operators and accommodation providers also noticing an increase in tourists throughout the year.

Humpback Whales on the Ningaloo Coast.
Camera IconHumpback Whales on the Ningaloo Coast. Credit: Chris Jansen / Live Ningaloo

Cruise Ningaloo owner Sandy Burt said his sunset tours had been running almost every day.

“If there’s more people coming to swim with the whales, there’ll be more people who will want to enjoy a glass of bubbles, some good food and just watch the whales play from above the water,” he said.

Ningaloo Lodge manager Jackie Brooks said July, August and September this year were some of the busiest months the business had on record.

Mr Burt believes there shouldn’t be a tourist season in Exmouth, as there is plenty for people to do in summer as well.

“There is no need to limit yourself to peak times — the reef is always there, the islands are always there and there is turtle activity right throughout the summer with mating, nesting and hatching from October-March,” he said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails