Ningaloo whale swim trial to run for third year

Tom ZaunmayrPilbara News
A humpback whale off the Ningaloo Coast.
Camera IconA humpback whale off the Ningaloo Coast. Credit: Picture: Tom Zaunmayr, Tom Zaunmayr.

Exmouth’s humpback whale swim trial has been extended following the completion of the second year of the trial.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions has told operators the trial will run for an extra year to allow further assessment and development of the tourism experience.

At the beginning of the 2017 season some concerns were raised about changes to the definition of a calf size, resulting in a reduced number of whales able to be interacted with.

Live Ningaloo owner-operator Murray Pattison said the department had been productive in listening to feedback from operators.

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“It has been a success, there is no doubt there are more people in Exmouth,” he said.

“We had a few Parks and Wildlife staff from head office come up and have tours with us which was a really great experience to show them what we are up against with some of the changes in the rules.

“The calf-size definition change is the biggest obstacle for us to jump over.

“That can cut a whole month of business away from you, which was proven this year.”

Mr Pattison said the trial had created other benefits, including a prolonged whale-shark swimming season and increased staff retention due to crew now being required for eight months, rather than four.

“This is a great opportunity but has to be realistic,” he said. “It has to be safe for the whales and the guests, but it also needs to be financially feasible otherwise no one will conduct tours.”

Environment Minister Stephen Dawson said the continuation of the trial would increase confidence in the effectiveness of licence conditions to protect whales, swimmers and commercial viability.

“The trial has been valuable in that it’s given the department an opportunity to refine and evaluate the program and the way it is administered,” he said. “It allows different management arrangements to be tested, supported by a scientifically robust research and monitoring program, to determine which arrangements are most effective to support a safe and enjoyable visitor experience.

“I have also decided to convene a working group, with representatives of the tourism industry, including the operators themselves, and the conservation and science sectors together with government agencies, to review the trial in detail and provide advice on the future of this activity.

“The first working group meeting is planned for December 2017.”

Mr Dawson said the working group, supported by the DBCA, would report back with recommendations in the first half of next year.

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