Shark Bay is a unique and rich World Heritage Listed nature reserve. It’s one of the best places to see dugongs in the wild, and they attract sharks. Bottlenose dolphins are also frequently spotted here. And on the edge of the water you’ll find the oldest living fossils. It’s also the base for a very prestigious conservation project.
Shark Bay teaches us an interesting lesson about the history of the planet. It’s famous for the stromatolites that live on the edge of the beach and the ocean. These cyanobacteria, or minuscule microorganisms in the form of algae, live off the sediment that they bind together at the same time. They create layers upon layers of sediment that slowly form small domes.
The growth of these structures is similar to that of a coral reef. Stromatolites date back 3.5 billion years (that’s earlier than dinosaurs) and are the oldest living fossils on earth. Shark Bay is the most famous place on the planet to see these structures, and researches from far and wide come to study this phenomenon.
Monkey Mia’s beach is famous for its dolphins, that come to the beach every day to interact with humans. Once upon a time they just came to eat the fishermen’s refuse, but these days they greet the tourists who come to wade into the water to see and feed the dolphins up-close.
Conservationists have their doubts about feeding wild dolphins and they’re worried about the growing number of tourists, but there are rangers who ensure that the animals remain wild and safe. Research is also being done into the animals’ behaviour and their dependence upon the food they receive. Pelicans are also keen to get in on the action, by the way.
In the water at Shark Bay you’ll also find the Wooramel Seagrass Bank, the largest seagrass bank in the world. It’s the first chain of an entire food chain, which of course then contains dugongs and sharks. The area is also famous for curious (bottlenose) dolphins who visit Monkey Mia beach daily.
They get fed there, which makes them slightly less ‘wild’ than other dolphins. And to complete the picture the shore here turns into a sea of flowers every spring. And you can find many special animal species here, especially on the surrounding islands.
The British pirate (or ‘privateer and explorer’) William Dampier) came up with the name ‘Shark Bay’ while on a voyage in the area in 1699, probably mistaking the many dolphins for sharks. Obviously this gave the area a bit of an ominous feeling, very different to how people think of it today.
Snorkel with dugongs
If you like to see marine life in action, getting in the water here is a must. Take a snorkel tour to meet some of the many animals in person. And if you’re lucky, you’ll encounter some dugongs grazing on seagrass, or turtles, or…who knows? Ask for more information when you’re there to maximise your time.
Swim with manta rays
Manta rays are one of the most graceful animals of the ocean. You’ll have the best chance of seeing these animals when you go for a snorkel (or a swim) in June. And if you’re lucky enough to encounter them, you’ll notice they’re not shy. It’s a special experience.
Help the dolphins
This Dutch explorer was the first European to sail to the west coast of Australia in the sixteenth century, on board the Eendracht (the Conchord). You can visit the island that is named after him: Dirk Hartog Island. There isn’t much left of this ancient history, but it’s a part of the Dutch legacy on the other side of the world. The reef besides this island is known for its diverse marine life, so it’s a much-loved snorkel spot.
Follow in the footsteps of Dirck Hartogh
Deze Nederlandse ontdekkingsreiziger uit de zestiende eeuw voer met zijn schip De Eendracht als eerste Europeaan naar de westkust van AustraliÃ«. Het naar hem vernoemde Dirk Hartog Island is open voor toerisme. Veel overblijfselen zijn er overigens niet, maar je staat wel op een stukje Nederlands verleden aan de andere kant van de wereld. Overigens is het rif naast het eiland beroemd om de vele dieren die er leven. Het is dan ook een geliefde snorkelplek.
Go sea-creature spotting on a sailboat
It’s guaranteed that you’ll see dolphins in this area, but not dugongs. But it’s a possibility, just as turtles, whales and manta rays. And viewing the area’s wildlife from a sailboat is a nice and relaxed way to spot them all, because you can see deep into the clear water.
Watch salt lakes teem with life
MOn the left side of the Peron peninsula you’ll find many salt lakes (or birridas as they’re locally known). They can be huge, or very small, and over the years were created by the drying up of salt water, leaving behind salty deposits, which can contain intriguing crystalis.
Some salt lakes are dry all year, some fill up with water when it rains, and others are still connected with the sea. Many of the salt lakes give life to many crustaceans and fish, so if you look closely you can see all kinds of life in the shallow water.
Go camping in the wild
These kinds of rugged areas call for camping. There are many options in Shark Bay, including within the Francois Peron National Park. You can pitch your tent or park your campervan by the sea, by or a lake, or somewhere inland. Ask around for options. Keep your eyes peeled at dusk, because there will be many things stirring in the dying light, including those of the bouncing variety, but it can be hard to identify them in the dark.
Explore the hinterland in a 4×4
The Francois Peron National Park is a rough area, despite its history as a sheep farm. The roads are only passable for cars that can handle the sand, especially if you want to see the red dunes and the coast. This is rugged Australia. You can hire a car in Denham, for example, but you can also take a chauffeured tour.
Study the local wildlife up-close in an aquarium
You can find a lot of the local animals in Ocean Park. It’s ideal if you want have another good look at what you’ve seen out in the wild, or see the ones you might have missed. A highlight is feeding time for hammerheads and tiger sharks.
Winter and spring (June to October) are the best time when it comes to temperature. Most flowers will be in bloom. In summer it can be extremely hot here.
You can no longer swim with dolphins at Monkey Mia, due to the crowds and to protect the animals. These days you have to queue to see the dolphins come in.
In peak season it’s a good idea to book your accommodation, tours and car hire in advance