A Whale of a Time

April 14, 2007

Back in 1984 I was sent for a month to a remote airbase called Learmonth (sounds like a prison sentence and it was – the base is located in the desert (Google Earth 22°13’22.43″S 114° 5’12.81″E) with no nearby townships) for a combined military exercise with the USAF 8th Tactical Fighter Wing out of Kunsan, Korea. They came down and flogged their aircraft around in glee at the wide open spaces. We enjoyed the spectacle. In the slower moments of the exercise we took our police dogs down to the crystal clear waters of the Exmouth Gulf but they came out of the water pretty quickly after a few minutes. Nothing we could do could convince them back into the water. After scratching our heads for a while we saw why, when shadows of sharks started drifting up and down off the beach, about thirty metres away. Big sharks. The dogs knew long before we did. Any ideas about swimming went straight out the window.

A friend has just emailed photos he took last week of the whale sharks in Western Australia. Said he had flown into Learmonth and then travelled to Ningaloo Reef to see these creatures. Not the sinister sharks that we saw in 1984, these docile fish are found further out on the reef and by all accounts are worth the visit. At the right time of the year you can come here and swim with these things. As my friend has just done. Back then I enjoyed watching aircraft belting around the sky with little inhibition but I think a visit back to that part of the world nowadays would be purely for the whale sharks.