Ningaloo s whale sharks lure tourists

The sprawling Ningaloo Reef is many things - fragile ecosystem, research hub, fishing hotspot, tourism drawcard and the feeding ground of the much-loved whale shark.

At the weekend, hundreds of people journeyed to Exmouth to celebrate the latter at the Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival.

During the whale shark season, between March and August, the town's population swells as tourists flock to the reef to swim with the biggest fish in the sea. The area also draws scientists, intent on studying them.

Jenny Cook, a British-born marine biologist, is studying the possible effects of global warming on plankton, the whale shark's diet.

She believes Exmouth's whale shark eco-tourism industry is the international benchmark.

"Exmouth town wouldn't be what it is without the whale shark industry," she said.

"There's the fishing, too, but that's not enough to sustain it."

Ningaloo Whale Shark Festival: An aerial view of Ningaloo Reef which is a major feeding ground for the Whale Sharks. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

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