Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Reef
By Mark Cunich
After being accepted into the whale sharks program I realised I had a problem…I didn’t know the first thing about whale sharks. I immediately imagined myself wrestling Jaws. Luckily, I found this was not the case. As it turned out, the whale shark is not a whale but rather a whale-sized shark.
Let me take you through a typical day…
We started with a quick snorkel on the inner reef, where we came across absolutely everything from turtles to sea snakes and from clown fish to reef sharks. We would then receive directions from a spotter plane to head out to sea.
Within minutes the skipper would yell “Go! Go! Go!” (not to be mistaken for “No! No! No!” – a mistake that cost me a jug of beer) followed by a resounding splash as ten people jumped in the water, frantically trying to get out of the way of the fast approaching 1.5 metre-wide shark mouth.
We watched in awe as the seemingly never-ending body glided past us, just metres way. The size of the creature was literally breath taking - which isn’t the best thing when you are trying to snorkel.
The days were spent travelling out to Ningaloo Reef on charter boats to snorkel with whale sharks, taking photographs of their markings and gender identification. These markings were later analysed in the laboratories to specifically identify and track individual sharks to learn about their migration patterns.
By conducting surveys and making presentations, we were able to increase public awareness of the whale shark.
Swimming with the sharks was often interrupted by a sighting of a hump-back whale, dolphins and dugongs, but the majority of the day was spent in the water watching the gentle giants.
These beautiful creatures were canvassed on a background of the most vibrant and diverse array of sea life that I have ever come across.
Whilst having the time of my life, I also contributed to the conservation of an endangered species, by increasing the understanding of the creatures.
The Earthwatch experience was the most amazing, unforgettable experience of my life. I met people from all around the world, from all walks of life and made some great friends.
Through discussions with people involved in environmental initiatives all round the world, I have been inspired to continue contributing to the conservation of the natural environment.
You would be mad not to apply for this project!
Mark Cunich works for KPMG, one of Earthwatch’s corporate partners.
Each year since 1993, KPMG has sponsored employees to participate in an Earthwatch project of their choice, contributing to over 1,400 volunteer hours to environmental research throughout Australia and New Zealand.
Mark was accepted to participate in Whale Sharks of Ningaloo Reef and describes it as the most unforgettable experience of his life.