For most, swimming with certain marine wildlife is a lifelong dream or a bucket list experience. For others it’s something that they may have only recently learnt about but either way, it’s evokes your interest in a powerfully irresistible way. First however, you’ve got to get to Australia or travel from within, and then, the tour doesn’t come cheap either. You might only be able to afford one crack at it and your expectations are out the roof – thanks a lot @jonoimages. Not to mention you might have some concerns about swimming in the open ocean. It’s a lot of pressure. So, how can you improve your chances?
Read-on and I’ll teach you what I know. To be clear, this isn’t a fail-safe guide but if you can cover your bases and follow the rules, your crew can focus their efforts more effectively. Then it’s all up to the wildlife on the day.
There are five factors that go into it:
- Conditions on the water –We refer to how clear the water is, as ‘visibility’. Furthermore, wind & swell can challenge your ability to swim and the weather might affect how easy it is to search for wildlife, above and below the surface.
- The competence of your crew – An experienced skipper, deckhand & swim guide will have the knowledge to work as a team and make the most of each opportunity that presents itself. (As well as keep you safe of course).
- The Marine Life – Each individual has its’ own personality and temperament. Swims operate entirely on their terms, so if they’re not keen you may have to go-on in search for one that is.
- You – (We’ll come back to this point).
- Belief – More times than not, on the days that the boat was full of energetic customers that TRULY believed that they were going to have the experience of a lifetime, nature delivered!
Improve your chances – The Rules
Trust your crew – They’re invested in your success. Sure, they froth on seeing nature, but the job is tough, it comes with risks and it’s not boosted by an attractive paycheque. They’re in it because they’re passionate about YOUR experience – This is the job and just like any, they want to excel in their role. Trust them.
Don’t feed or touch – The marine life of course! OR the crew maybe, you’ll have to check with them! But feeding and touching marine life is against federal law and for good reason. Follow it.
Don’t chase – Honestly, it ruins it for everyone. You’ll spook the wildlife and loose them forever. Rather let them go. The likelihood is that they’ll turn back around for closer look at you anyway. Let’s leave the wildlife with a positive lasting impression of us.
Be sober – As tempting as it may be with the excitement of the day, being under the influence will serious inhibit your safety and chances of success. If the crew is made aware, you’ll will be prohibited from entering the water or even joining the trip and you’ll unlikely receive a refund.
Don’t worry, be happy – You might be nervous or have high expectations. Try and clear your mind and instead, just bring a strong positive attitude with you. This has proved to be the biggest advocate to the success of these trips.
Improve your chances – WHAT YOU CAN DO
Ok, so let’s break it down to make it easier to remember. Let’s consider what you can do to prepare for the day, how you can help on-board, how best to act in-water and what you can do after.
READ THIS GUIDE
(Congrats, you’re half-way there!) Save it to your bookmarks and refer back to it before your trip.
BOOK WITH A TOUR PROVIDER
THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT!
I could write a whole piece on why? And I might! The biggest reason is for YOUR SAFETY and for that of the wildlife too. Heading out on a mate’s boat could be a risky move. But in light of improving your chances – It’s their experience in operating wildlife swims that you want to take advantage of.
- Sea sickness medication – Head to your local pharmacy and ask their advice. If you don’t like taking pills like me, then lots of ginger and avoid dairy!
- Smoking – If you’re a smoker then try and limit yourself. It can be a physically demanding activity at times, and you won’t be able to smoke on-board anyway.
- Exercise & limber up – The more physically-able you are the better and stretching will help prevent cramping-up or injuring yourself.
- Practice snorkelling – For some, submerging their face in water is a daunting feeling and others hate the taste of saltwater and find it shocking. Handle your expectations by putting in some practice at the local beach beforehand.
- Sun cream – Biodegradable please! It can take 45 minutes for your skin to absorb it and inside this timescale, transfer from your body to the water can damage local corals. Wear a sunhat, long sleeves and stay under cover where possible.
- Buy your own Equipment – A set of Freediving-fins will give you speed. A fitted mask (especially if you require correction lenses) could improve visibility. A fancy snorkel will stop water coming in. Your own fitted wetsuit will give you comfort. This doesn’t come cheap so don’t stress if you can’t afford it, tour providers will supply a perfectly good set of equipment for you on the day.
- Listen to the briefings given by your crew – If there is a language barrier or you don’t understand, THEN ASK! It’s imperative that you follow everything that’s being said.
- Help look – In most cases, your crew will first need to find the wildlife in the vastness of the ocean. They will be able to teach you what to look out for and the sooner that you find them, the sooner you’ll be able to get in the water.
- Patience is a virtue – Sometimes it’s in the last half-hour that it all comes together. Remain calm, patient and enjoy all the other aspects of the trip.
- Keep Hydrated – This won’t directly improve your chances, but if you become dehydrated this will have the adverse effect.
- Trust your guide – At times, they may have to get creative or change the plan. Stick with them, listen out for their instructions, follow their commands and ask questions later.
- Enter the water quietly – Marine life has evolved to have acute senses and if they feel threatened, they’ll take-off. Unless your guide says so, enter the water as quietly as possible so that you don’t startle them.
- Swim side-by-side – If you swim behind someone, all you’re going to do is cop their wash of bubbles. Swimming alongside your fellow swimmer prevents this.
- LOOK DOWN!!! And ahead and all around. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a whale swim under a customer without them knowing because their head was above the surface!
- Understand what you’re looking out for – It seems silly, but I would ask every group I took out, what colour are whales? “Grey or Black” they would respond, but underwater, this appears as the same colour as the water. Marine life has evolved to be well camouflaged. Instead, I would suggest that they look out for the whiteness of their belly, fluke and pectoral fins. Ask your crew, they’ll be able to advise what to look for to improve your chances of seeing them below.
- Don’t chase – I must reiterate this. Every time an excited customer has chased after a whale, it’s the last time we saw them. Humpbacks can hold their breath for 40 mins and swim at 15 knots, you can swim at best 1 knot. There’s every chance that they’ll turn back around and check you out and that’s a much more special feeling.
- Go again – Just like anything, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. You might find it hard to remember all of these points but after a few goes, you’ll have it down. Even if you had the ‘swim of the season’, next time you join that tour you’ll experience will be totally different. In my last season working as a swim guide, I had one customer join our trips nine times. (you know who you are). Her first trip out was unreal!
- Swim with another species – We are spoilt for marine life in Australia. If you’ve experienced Humpbacks and you are totally satisfied then check out saltyswims.com.au. You’ll be able to explore what other species it’s possible to swim with. You’ll be able to find out where you can do it and when’s the right time to be arranging your annual leave or planning your next road trip.
Improve your chances – DISCLAIMER
Remember that by reading this you aren’t guaranteeing your success, although that would be awesome, and I’d get A LOT of readers. I believe that you can improve your chances of swimming with wildlife by revising this document. These are all points that I learnt during my experience working as a swim guide/deckhand. If you have any tricks or secrets of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments sections below.
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