What we do

The whale shark is listed as ‘Endangered’ on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 2016 Red List of Threatened Species. It is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and Appendix II on the Bonn Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS). Although now protected in some countries, the migratory nature of the threatened whale shark may result in their moving from a protected area to a hunting zone. Human induced habitat destruction is also a major threat to this filter feeder, which is dependent upon food pulses and critical habitats to survive. Humans interfering with the natural behaviour of the sharks (boating / tourism) can also cause disruption and drive this species from critical habitats.  To date, location of breeding and birthing grounds remain undefined.

Whale sharks are listed as ‘vulnerable’ in Australia under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act 1999). There are various State and Federal Government management plans to ensure they are protected in Australian waters.

Ningaloo Commonwealth Waters Plan 2002-2009 (1.2Mb pdf in new window)
Whale Shark Recovery Plan 2005-2010  (170kb pdf in new window)
State Ningaloo Marine Park Plan 2005-2015  (5.1Mb pdf in new window)
Whale Shark Interaction Management Program  (3.7Mb pdf in new window)

ECOCEAN has been very successful in contributing to the protection of this species both internationally and nationally having i) prepared the Species Report for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which upgraded the international conservation status for this species from ‘Indeterminate – Data Deficient’ to ‘Vulnerable to Extinction’ in 2000; ii) successfully nominated the whale shark on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) in 2001; iii) provided researched documents for inclusion (and attended the United Nations Meeting in support) in the successful nomination to have the whale shark listed under the United Nations Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2002; iv) attended in support (as one of only ten official invited non-government organisations) all three meetings (Seychelles (2007), Rome (2008), Philippines (2010)) of the United Nations Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)  which successfully developed an international Memorandum of Understanding between over 100 countries for the conservation of migratory sharks; and v) co-authored the updated Species Report for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which resulted in the whale shark conservation status changing from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ in 2016.




The Ningaloo Reef is the longest fringing reef in Australia. It stretches 260 kilometres along the west coast of the Cape Range Peninsula near Exmouth, Western Australia approximately 1200km north of Perth. It is the only large reef in the world found so close to a continental land mass; about 100 metres offshore at its nearest point and less than seven kilometres at its furthest. The Ningaloo Reef is home to 500 species of colourful tropical fish and 250 species of coral. Six out of seven of the world’s marine turtles are found on the reef; dugong feed on sea grasses within the lagoons; and humpback whales migrate close to the coast. There is no doubt that the Ningaloo Reef is one of the most significant marine regions in the world. It was named a World Heritage site in 2011.

The Ningaloo Reef is one of the best and most accessible places in the world to see whale sharks as they migrate to the reef every year after the mass coral spawning in March and April. A large ecotourism industry has been created around this migration and attracts more than 20,000 tourists a year. ECOCEAN has been pivotal in creating best practice tourism standards for the Ningaloo area, which have been adapted in other parts of the world (see link to manual below).

ECOCEAN Best Practice Whale Shark Ecotourism UNEP MANUAL (660kb pdf in new window)

Since ECOCEAN has been studying the whale shark population off Ningaloo, more than 1300 different individual whale sharks have been identified from the region; a population that has been continuously monitored over the past 22 years with the great support of the general public.

Graph of increase in reports from public from http://www.whaleshark.org

These data also show that the returning whale shark population is showing a marginal increase in number.

Every year, 2/3 of the whale shark sightings are of whale sharks that have been seen at Ningaloo previously and subsequently recorded in the Whale Shark Photo-identification Library.

Meet ‘Stumpy’ and his friends – some of the regular visitors to Ningaloo. Stumpy was first seen in 1995 and continues to return to Ningaloo on a regular basis. Follow his sightings through our Library.

Stumpy was named after his ‘stumpy tail’, a very distinguishable feature. He has been seen at Ningaloo almost year since 1995!

Stumpy A-001

Scarface A-013


Zorro A-041

For information on the protection of whale sharks off the Ningaloo coast and in Australia, see the conservation page.

For more information on Ningaloo and Western Australia’s Coral Coast, see Tourism WA’s website.

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