Marine Supreme: Shark Bay and the Mysterious Dolphins of Monkey Mia
Getting up close to Monkey Mia’s world-famous dolphins was just one of the extraordinary marine life encounters travel writer Lorna Hendry and her family enjoyed on their trip to Shark Bay.
When we visited Monkey Mia, two wild dolphin families had claimed the beach as part of their territory. This meant that we got to watch these wild dolphins up close in their natural environment, just by standing knee-deep in the sheltered bay at one of the morning feeding sessions.
However, the story of these tame creatures is bigger than the tourists being able to paddle in the shallows and feed them.
The Monkey Mia dolphins have been the focus of one of the largest-ever studies by local researchers. Every day, right from the beach, the dolphin families can be seen hunting, playing, protecting their territories and raising their calves, thus increasing our understanding of these fascinating animals. Even from shore, you can be lucky enough to see them herding fish into shore to feed.
The dolphins were the main reason we went to Monkey Mia, but we decided to explore more of Shark Bay’s attractions so we spent a few days camping at Steep Point. We wanted to brag that we had stood on the western-most point of the Australian mainland, but we quickly realised there was much more to do than that. One afternoon, as we stood high above the ocean on the edge of the Zuytdorp Cliffs, a spurt of white foam announced the presence of three humpback whales. We followed them on foot along the cliffs as they cruised up the coast. After they disappeared, we watched giant turtles gliding in the water below us.
Across the water from our Shelter Bay campsite we could see Dirk Hartog Island. The innovative ‘Return to 1616’ conservation project is restoring the vegetation and wildlife of the island to how it was when Hartog landed there 400 years ago. It is just one of the projects in the area that showcases the amazing diversity of the Shark Bay region.
At Hamelin Pool we saw living marine stromatolites, which are similar to life forms that existed 3.5 billion years ago. They only exist in two other places on the planet. It was incredible to learn that these living fossils represent an early stage in the evolution of all life.
Cape Peron, on the northern tip of the peninsula, is where two nutrient-rich currents meet. It’s basically an oceanic smorgasbord for all forms of wildlife. The lookouts on the cliff were the perfect place to sit and watch the feeding frenzy.
Another bonus of all this sea life is that, despite the name, the sharks of Shark Bay aren’t remotely interested in anything but fish. Normal precautions apply, of course, but you don’t have to be concerned about exploring the beaches.
Not surprisingly, Shark Bay is a World Heritage area. It is diverse and complex, and the sheltered waters are home to some of the world’s most endangered marine animals, such as dugong and loggerhead turtles. With a huge population of sea birds, raptors and several rare bird species, it’s also a birdwatcher’s paradise.
The World Heritage Discovery and Visitor Centre in Denham is a great place to find out more about Shark Bay and its unique ecosystem and wildlife. You can get out onto the water on a range of tours, including yachting, sea kayaking and fishing charters, hop aboard a 4WD tour of the Francois Peron National Park, or take a scenic flight to really appreciate the scope of this magnificent part of the WA coast.
All this secluded loveliness is within driving distance from Perth via the North West Coastal Highway, or by flying straight into the airport at Monkey Mia.