Whale Sharks on Fire?!

by Austin Weihmiller /
Austin Weihmiller's picture
Sep 19, 2013 / 0 comments

Not quite the case. There a few places around the world where one can get up close and swim alongside the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark. It was promise made by Mom. She said she’d take me anywhere in the world to ring in 16. No rules. No boundaries. Just a family, some cake, and maybe a flight or two. We found ourselves in the orange red Outback of Western Australia, in the tiny town of Exmouth. For hundreds of miles in any direction, there was nothing but desert, periwinkle skies and the glistening Indian Ocean. Seeing a passing car on the lonely highway was something of a miracle: life, besides hoop snakes and dropbears, really did exist in this barren land.


The town was founded in the '60s as an American Base, home to a top secret submarine refueling station. It was a mini America hidden in the sprawling Outback. On the edge of town, drivers had to switch to the right side of the road; American dollars was the only accepted currency; though it never held a drop of anything, a water tower was built to make soldiers feel more at home. Locals of the area swear that much more happened on base than submarine refueling though. Something of supernatural proportions.


Up until about 20 years ago, the mini America thrived, until the military spontaneously left, literally just by turning off the lights and walking out the door. The barrackswere left to the elements. The bowling alley, a favorite amongst those stationed in Exmouth, was left just as is, pins and balls still set up, ready for game play. The community was at a loss of what to do. The Americans were their only source of income. Close to 800 miles north of Perth, the town had to come up with new means to support themselves. Fast.


Not only being home to a strange base that now resembles the set of a post-apocalyptic movie, complete with wild dingoes, Exmouth is the gateway to Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia’s call to the Great Barrier. The 260km long reef, a mosaic of colorful and diverse life, is home to what locals call ‘spotty fish’. The whale shark. These mammoth creatures migrate down to the warm waters of Exmouth between late April and Early August for the spawning of the corals, and feast on the bounties of plankton. Someone had the genius idea of charging tourists a small fortune to get in the water and swim with the spotty fish. And to this day, the idea has kept the town thriving, turning it into a diverse and interesting melting pot of adventurers and Aussies.


Once a year, Exmouth is host to the Whale Shark Festival, a weekend-long party to celebrate the whale shark. The festival consists of live music venues, games, raffles, parties, and to close the ceremonies, a fire show on the beach.  An entire festival dedicated to a fish? And a fire show? Alrighty then. Australia is a quirky place. You just have to go with it. When in Rome, right?


Whale sharks on fire?!


Lit by the full moon, the dreamy and interpretive dance tells of hopeless romantics; traveling through waters unknown; and growing up. It’s strange and weird and definitely not how one would probably spend their Sunday evening. Upon hearing about the eerie show, I knew I had to make an appearance. My only regret? That I didn’t film more!




Hidden amongst sand storms and barren lands that stretch for hundreds of miles is Exmouth, home to the whale shark, amazing friends, and memories beyond belief. 16 couldn’t have been better for me. The performance was shot entirely on my iPhone.