A four-month trial of swimming with humpback whales is underway at Western Australia's Ningaloo Marine Park, enhancing the world heritage area's reputation as a key ecotourism destination.
Environment Minister Albert Jacob said 11 tour operators from Exmouth and Coral Bay were participating in the trial, with about 200 people booking tours in the first week.
"This Liberal National Government initiative is already generating strong local and international interest in the humpback whale swims," Mr Jacob said.
"In-water interaction with these creatures is creating a world-class tourism attraction for the State. This trial extends the region's tourism season and enables the whale shark tour companies to grow their businesses in a sustainable way, which benefits the whole Western Australian economy."
The Minister said the Department of Parks and Wildlife had developed new guidelines and licence conditions for the swimming with humpback whale program and conducted training sessions with tour operators and their staff.
"Developing management arrangements which minimise risks to swimmers and whales has been of paramount importance," he said.
"Operators completed on-water training to enable their crews to practice operational procedures and interaction protocols before public tours began.
"They have been learning which areas of the Ningaloo Marine Park are ideal for interactions, which pods are suitable and how to interpret humpback whale behaviour."
The west coast humpback whale population had steadily recovered since the end of commercial hunting of the species in Australia in 1963, with an estimated 30,000 whales migrating along the coast each year.
At this time of year, humpback whales are migrating to the Southern Ocean from warm Kimberley waters where they have been breeding
The outcomes of the trial will determine whether swimming with humpbacks can be a permanent feature in Ningaloo Marine Park
The trial ends on November 30, 2016
Minister's office - 6552 5800