FAQ | Live Ningaloo


Humpback whale | Live Ningaloo

Swim with Humpback Whales in Exmouth

Swimming with humpback whales in Exmouth is an unforgettable activity, and our Life on Ningaloo tour is the perfect way to experience it. 

Each year, humpback whales begin their epic migration northwards from the cold waters of Antarctica to the tropical waters of Broome, Western Australia. Their migration is one of the longest of any mammal in the world at approximately 6,700km long, lasting up to eight months.

The Exmouth Gulf, where all life on Ningaloo Reef starts, provides an important resting area for the whales and offers one of the best chances to see them up close.

Here’s everything you need to know about swimming with humpback whales in Exmouth.

The history of humpback whale swimming at Ningaloo Reef

Whether you’ve toured with Live Ningaloo in the past, heard stories from friends, or simply read about us online – you might be excited about our humpback whale swimming tours. 

While we no longer offer a dedicated humpback whale swimming tour, that doesn’t mean you can’t swim with these incredible creatures. We now refer to what was once known as our Swim with Humpback Whales tour as Life on Ningaloo

Humpback whale swimming trials 

In 2016, during the trial phase for humpback whale swimming at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia’s Parks and Wildlife Service allowed a maximum of five swimmers in the water during humpback whale tours. 

Before this, most tour operators only stayed in Exmouth for the three-to-four-month whale shark season.

August to October is a transitional time in the sea

Once licences were granted and more and more operators began to remain in Exmouth from August to October, we quickly learned that those three months were a very transitional time in the sea and ideal for humpback whale swimming.

However, these transitional months are about more than humpback whales, with orcas, fin whales, pilot whales, minke whales, blue whales and many more species all travelling through the Ningaloo Highway. 

How does Life on Ningaloo differ from our old humpback whale swims? 

When the Parks and Wildlife Service raised the number of swimmers to seven, we wanted to stay committed to our mission of offering small-group tours with a maximum of 10 guests. 

Because of this commitment, our Life on Ningaloo tour has spots for seven swimmers and three observers per tour; observers cannot switch to swimming during the tour because of the lessons we’ve learnt during the trial and over years of testing.

The mantra behind our Life on Ningaloo tour is about taking the day as it comes and embracing what the Ningaloo Reef and Mother Nature offer on any given day. Previous guests on our Life on Ningaloo tours have described the experience as ‘life-changing’ and ‘the best thing I’ve ever done.’ 

Restrictions on humpback whale swims

Our decision to end our dedicated humpback whale swimming tours was challenging and something we didn’t take lightly. 

We’ve undergone many changes since the initial trial in 2016, including adapting to various restrictions and regulations laid out by the Parks and Wildlife Service. 

Swimming with humpback whales is constantly evolving from swimmer numbers, tour timings, legal calve swimming sizes, and swimming zones (specific resting and calving areas excluded) to methods for assessing non-passive and passive behaviours.

However, one thing during this time has always remained a constant: our top priorities are our guests’ safety, the Ningaloo Reef’s health, and the well-being of the animals that visit and call it home. 

Now that the trial has concluded and official licenses have been issued, we’ve determined, based on the set parameters in our license conditions and our learnings of what works consistently for a terrific tour, to take what the Ningaloo is offering day by day as it’s such a transitional time in the sea. 

When is the best time to swim with humpback whales?

As mentioned earlier, if you want to maximise your chances of swimming with humpback whales, you need to book our Life on Ningaloo tour between 1 August and 31 October, when thousands of humpback whales are expected to pass through the Ningaloo Marine Park. 

We always recommend hitting the middle of each wildlife calendar to maximise your chances.

Don’t humpback whales start migrating earlier than 1 August? Why can’t I swim with them earlier?

While it’s true that humpback whales can start migrating as early as June, and we are allowed to swim with them earlier, we have decided not to because they aren’t ready. Humpbacks travel up the coast to get to resting/calving grounds, and they are more rushed to reach their destination. We’ve learnt starting the tour in August is best because the quality of the interactions are better.

Why choose Live Ningaloo to swim with humpback whales?

We are the only tour company to offer small, single swimming group tours, which is super important with intelligent creatures like humpback whales. 

Securing a quality interaction with humpback whales is incredibly challenging because they are so intelligent and fast. They chose the interaction type and speed. We’ve learnt that the first interaction is typically the best with all wildlife, including humpback whales. 

On our Life on Ningaloo tour, we take only seven swimmers to maintain a single swimming group, and you’ll get in the water at every swimming opportunity – no switching between multiple groups.

Who are our Bespoke Humpback Whale Swimming Tours suitable for?

Our Life on Ningaloo swimming tours are suited for people who like to wear their adventure hats and take the day as it comes and are open to various ages and swimming abilities, and we accept confident swimmers from four years of age. You do not need to be able to SCUBA dive to swim with humpbacks. Swimmers should be able to snorkel, swim freestyle and cope with currents and swell in the open ocean, and we can also provide flotation devices to assist those who require them.

Please note: we may accept younger children who are very competent swimmers to swim and can also cater to some special needs and movement restrictions – please contact us to discuss. 

Remember that humpback whales can exhibit exuberant behaviour, such as lunging and slapping while in the water. If you’d prefer to stay out of the water, you can join the tour as an observer and view these extraordinary mammals from the comfort of our vessel deck. 

Observers can snorkel inside the lagoon but not on the megafauna portion of the trip. We don’t allow observers to switch with swimmers because that defeats the entire purpose of a single swimming group. Please note that one parent must accompany the children onboard the boat at all times. 

Can you guarantee I’ll interact with humpback whales on my tour?

We work closely with an experienced spotter plane pilot, who lets us know where the humpbacks appear so that we can get you there quickly and efficiently. 

We cannot guarantee that you will interact with one on your tour because humpback whales are wild animals, and we are sensitive to their needs. We compare our Life on Ningaloo tour to an African safari, where we search for animals in the wild.

Once our trained crew deem it safe, a group of seven people (maximum) will be guided into the water at 50 to 150 metres from the whales. Swimmers are allowed near mothers and young whales half the size of their mum or larger.  The whales will always guide interactions, who may approach swimmers if curious. You may be lucky enough to encounter more than one humpback during the tour; however, you should set your own pace and may choose not to swim each time.

If you are uncomfortable doing the swim, you can participate as an ‘observer’ and view these beautiful creatures from the deck. The duration of each swim will be determined by the whales’ willingness to be seen and interact with you. It’s important to note we do not apply pressure to wildlife for interactions as we’ve found giving space and options for wildlife the best for the safety of our guests and the wellbeing of the animals we come into contact with. 

For more information about this, check out the FAQ section of our website.

Where can I join this tour?

Our luxury vessel, Wave Rider, departs from Tantabiddi Boat Ramp just north of the Cape Range national park entrance in Exmouth. Complimentary transfers are provided to Exmouth Township. Advance Bookings are essential. We recommend booking several months in advance.

Do you offer a private tour?

Yes! All of our tours can be booked for private groups of up to 10 people. Due to the limited availability of this tour, we encourage you to contact us well in advance if you wish to book a private tour. 

Ready to swim with the humpback whales? Book your spot on our Life on Ningaloo tour today