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Snorkelers recall moment humpback whale attack at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia

Snorkelers have recalled their run-in with a protective mother whale which left one in a serious condition after being hit by a fin.

Tahnee Ptiman and Sharnee Pannell were swimming at Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia on Saturday when their group encountered an adult female whale and her calf.

The 15-metre whale swam toward the group of swimmers and struck a 29-year-old woman, leaving her with broken ribs and internal bleeding. 

The injured woman, reportedly from the UK, remained in a serious but stable condition at Royal Perth Hospital. 

‘They circled the group multiple times and became quite aggressive in their behaviour, swimming through the group with force and flicking their tails out of the water and swiping at swimmers,’ Ms Pitman told The West. 

A male swimmer was flung out of the water by a fin, while another female suffered a torn hamstring.

The Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions said people are required to remain at least 100m away from whales at all times.

However, licensed whale swimming tours are granted exemptions from the rules. 

‘No one was in the wrong, everyone followed the instructions 100 per cent. It was purely a freak accident and puts it in perspective that as humans we are entering the whales’ home and they will be protective when they need to be,’ Ms Pitman said. 

The company involved, Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim, said footage was being examined as part of a WorkSafe investigation.  

‘As far as we can tell it’s a freak accident,’ owner Matt Winter told Perth Now.

‘It’s just one of those things that happens with wild animals in the ocean. It could have been freaked out by other whales in the area … orcas … we just don’t know.’ 

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment said it is strictly prohibited to feed or touch whales.

‘If a person is in the vicinity of a whale they must not enter the water closer than 100m and must not approach closer than 30m to any whale,’ their website reads.

‘If you are approached by a whale or dolphin, avoid touching or sudden movements that might startle it and move away to a safe distance.’    

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