Swimming with humpback whales trial in WA
Swimming with humpback whales will be allowed at Western Australia's famous Ningaloo Marine Park next year as part of a bid to increase ecotourism.
Up to 23,000 people swim with whale sharks each year at Coral Bay and Exmouth, injecting around $6 million a year into the state's economy, and it's envisaged the humpback whale tours will work under a similar model.
Environment Minister Albert Jacob said existing licensed whale shark tour companies could take part in the humpback whale trial, which will begin in June and determine how the tours can become a permanent feature of Ningaloo and other areas of WA.
"The humpback whale (migration) season actually coincides almost perfectly towards the end of the whale shark season, so this will essentially double the tourism season," Mr Jacob told reporters on Sunday.
He said swimmers would not be allowed to touch the whales, but up to 10 people at a time would be able to get as close as four metres from a stationary whale and 30 metres from a moving whale.
No one will be allowed to swim with a mother and her calf or when the whales go within Exmouth Gulf to rest.
Large boats will have to stay 200 metres away from the animals.
Mr Jacob said the move came after the Threatened Species Committee recommended de-listing the humpback whale from that category and placing it in the specially protected list.
Pew Charitable Trusts declined to comment specifically on the plan until it has seen the detail, but confirmed there had been a huge recovery in the west coast humpback whale population since commercial hunting ended in 1963.