A woman has been flown to Royal Perth Hospital after being injured while swimming with humpback whales in Exmouth on Western Australia’s north-west coast on Saturday.
The 29-year-old was swimming with the giant mammals on a boat charter when she was hit by a tail during a snorkel tour.
She was flown by the Royal Flying Doctor Service from the popular tourist spot to Perth early on Sunday morning and remained in hospital in a serious but stable condition on Monday.
She reportedly has fractured ribs and internal bleeding.
Nine News Perth reporter Renae Henry said the woman was in a serious but stable condition in the trauma ward.
The tour operator said the accident occurred not long after she entered the water.
A snorkeler is being treated in Royal Perth Hospital after being struck by a whale tail in Exmouth. Witnesses say it was a freak accident involving a mother whale and her calf. @renaehenry9 #9News | Nightly at 6.00pm pic.twitter.com/KQu9yH8Cvk
— Nine News Perth (@9NewsPerth) August 3, 2020
“The whale immediately swam straight at the group to place herself between her group and her calf and she then engaged in a number of really classic defensive actions right next to the group including slapping her pectoral fins onto the water and slapping her tail down into the water,” he told Nine News Perth.
“Unfortunately when she was doing that one of the swimmers was hit by her tail and another was hit by her perctoral fin less seriously.”
The humpback whale swimming encounters in the Ningaloo Marine Park are scheduled to become a permanent licensed industry in 2021 at the completion of a five-year trial that is being monitored by the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions.
A select group of tour operators are authorised to offer the experience, with groups in the water limited to nine at a time.
According to a draft management program report released by the department in January, swimmers must not approach within 30 metres of a whale.
“If an in-water humpback whale interaction swimmer is approached by a whale to within the 30-metre limit, that swimmer shall take all reasonable steps to avoid contact with the whale and maintain a separation distance of no less than 15 metres by back-paddling or swimming away from or to the side of the whale,” it read.
The regulations also require swimmers to enter the water at least 75 metres away from a whale.
There is also a protection zone in place for mother and calf whales which bans interactions if there is a whale in the group that is less than half the size of the other whales.