Kylie and I spent the day in Denham, the small town that supports the Shark Bay region. We spent the morning at the one school in town that has only 120 students in total from pre-primary to year 12. Of course Gulliver came along for the ride too. The pre-primary students asked the usual question about whether or not whale sharks could eat us. When I told them that whale sharks aren’t designed to eat humans, but tiny krill like animals known as plankton, they asked if ‘whale sharks were vegetarian’? I love how kids minds work!
In the afternoon, we spoke to as many locals as possible including fishermen, charter boat operators and DEC staff. All of them had stories of previous whale shark sightings off Dirk Hartog Island, Steep Point and Zuytdorp Point, all located on the western peninsula of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. Most of the sightings were from the period between January and March over the last five years. DEC had one story of 30 whale sharks feeding together one evening when they were carrying out a search and rescue mission. It seems that this area is a very significant site for whale sharks and could even be were they migrate to after being at Ningaloo?
That night we held our community meeting in Denham in conjunction with the DEC. We met a range of community members, some who had been there for 20 years (apparently you aren’t a local until you have 20 years under your belt in Denham!), so could tell us what they had seen over time. One of the local charter boat operators, Greg Ridgeley, told us that he had seen a whale shark in 1997 in front of the Pearl Farm in Monkey Mia about 500m out. It appears that the entire Shark Bay World Heritage Area is not only important for dugongs and dolphins, but also whale sharks.