Great White Shark
Nudibranch (Chromodoris albopunctata)
With a coastline that stretches over 37,000 kilometres (23,000 miles), Australia lines three of the world’s largest oceans. Consequently, the country’s waters are diverse, ranging from tropical seas, through to temperate and sub-Antarctic waters.
Perhaps, there is no greater association with Australia’s marine offering than its coral reefs. Venturing to Australia's west coast, the world's largest extensive fringing reef is found in the Ningaloo Marine Park, home to the graceful Whale Shark, the world's largest migration of Humpback Whales and 50 per cent of Indian Ocean's coral species.The Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on earth and one of the most complex ecosystems. Stretching 2,300 kilometres off the continent's northeast, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is roughly the same area as Japan, Germany, Malaysia or Italy.
But it is the richness of Australia’s temperate marine environments that is surprising. By far the greatest proportion of biodiversity is found along the southern Australian coastline where 85% of fish, 90% of echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers) and 95% of molluscs are considered endemic with new species being discovered everyday.
Australia’s oceans support over 5,000 species of fish, more than half of the shark and ray species in the world, six of the seven known species of marine turtles, tens of thousands of species of invertebrates, over half of the world’s 58 seagrass species, and countless micro-organisms. Life beneath the surface in Australia is simply extraordinary.
Autumn: Mar-May, Ningaloo & Exmouth
In Autumn each year, the incredible mass spawning of coral takes between seven and 10 days after the full moon in March and April. This event triggers the arrival of krill and plankton which in turn creates a feeding frenzy for numerous fish species, including the regions most famous resident, the massive Whale Shark. This region is a haven for the world’s largest fish, with Whale Sharks of 12 metres length seen in the area. They spend plenty of time at the surface to feed and warm up from the sun’s rays. The opportunity to swim with these graceful and passive giants is an awe-inspiring experience.
The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally. A huge variety of nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours.
Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Manta Rays, Eagle Rays, Bull Rays and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are highlights for divers whilst Manta Rays can be seen in performing their incredible courtship dances around April, with the species growing up to 7 metres wide (disc width) and around 1,350 kg (2,980 lb).
Winter: Jun-Aug, Ningaloo & Exmouth
The winter season coincides with Coral Spawn & Plankton reaching its highest concentration in the region, meaning the marine biodiversity at this time is incredible. The most famous resident of the region, the enormous Whale Shark, is seen until the end of July feasting on the krill and plankton. Manta Rays can also be seen gracefully dancing around Exmouth, feeding on zooplankton.
With 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region it is a snorkellers and divers delight. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Cardinalfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Basslets, Cod and Trevally.
Ningaloo is primarily a hard coral reef with Finger Coral, Staghorn, Porites common in the area, whilst at the top of the Exmouth Gulf around the Muiron Islands, there is a stunning array of colourful soft corals including Gorgonian Fans, sponges such as Callyspongia, Golf Ball Sponge, Mushroom Leather Coral and different species of tree coral. A huge variety of Nudibranches are a delight for enthusiasts due to their spectacular colours and are so named because most of them have exposed gills.
Grey Nurse Sharks congregate around the Navy Pier during the winter months, competing for space with the Whitetip Reef Sharks and Wobbegongs.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Ningaloo & Exmouth
During the summer months around Coral Bay, Manta Rays form incredible mating chains, with up to 15 males fighting for position to mate with a single female. The region is home to a healthy resident population of around 600 Manta Rays, with Eagle and large Bull Rays also abundant in this area.
The regions diverse array of sharks, rays, turtles and large fish make regular use of ‘cleaning stations’, where smaller creatures and fish such as Cleaner Wrasse, come out to clean parasites and diseased or dead tissue from these creatures. The marine life found at Ningaloo is incredibly diverse, with 300 coral species, 600 different molluscs, and around 500 species of fish in the region. Popular fish sightings range from Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse, to larger fish such as Groper, Barracuda, Coral Trout, Cod and Trevally.
Whitetip and Blacktip Reef Sharks, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers, Cat Sharks, Olive Sea Snakes, Moray Eels and the well-camouflaged Wobbegong are also highlights for dive enthusiasts.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Ningaloo & Exmouth
Ningaloo Reef is one of the world's largest fringing reefs, with this intricate ecosystem branching over 260 km and, at some points, is only metres from the beach. This is an ideal time to see Manta Rays along the reef near Exmouth, that are present feeding on the plankton rich water.
There are around 500 species of fish in the region including Parrotfish, Butterflyfish, Angelfish, Damselfish, Scissor Tails, Flutemouths, Wrasse through to larger fish such as Groper, Coral Trout, Giant Potato Cod and Trevally. A keen eye will be able to spot the Sailfin Catfish which is endemic to the region and present year round.
More than 50 per cent of Indian Ocean coral species are found across the Ningaloo Marine Park area, with over 300 species, including Finger, Staghorn, Porites Cabbage, Brain, Lavender, Plate, Mushroom, Bubble and Branching Corals. Whilst not a coral, Anemone’s are common, providing habitat for some of the reef’s most endearing residents; the Clarkes, Pink and Tomato Anemonefish.
Winter: Jun-Aug, Eyre Peninsula
The winter season provides peak viewing for large Great White Shark females, measuring over five metres in length and almost double the size of males. Around 3,500 Long-nosed Fur Seal pups are born in the summer and they will learn to swim around the rock pools and shallow of the Nepturne Islands at this time. This attracts the giant females, that feast upon the plentiful pups that are ambushed by these amazing predators.
The difference between male and female Great White Sharks is quite noticeable, with the females weighing almost double their male counterparts. Great White Sharks are known to change their diet as they grow with juveniles feeding primarily on fish and other sharks and rays, whilst larger sharks typically target marine mammals such as Long-nosed Fur Seals and Australian Sea-lions.
Summer: Dec-Feb, Eyre Peninsula
Summer is the annual breeding season for the Great White Shark, however, researchers are still discovering information about breeding patterns and behaviour for this apex predator. The warmer conditions generally provide calmer ocean conditions and deliver higher water temperatures of up to 20 degrees Celsius.
Male Great White Sharks are seen around the Neptune Islands year round versus females that usually visit in conjunction with seal pups entering the water around April onwards. Great White Sharks have a circulatory system which allow them to maintain a body temperature up to 14 degrees Celcius above that of the surrounding seawater, meaning they can migrate across a broad range of oceanic conditions.
Spring: Sep-Nov, Eyre Peninsula
Male Great White Sharks can be seen around the Neptune Islands at this time, with the warmer conditions generally providing calmer ocean conditions. Although not as large as females that are present in the winter time, adult male Great White Sharks range from four to five metres in length and are generally more inquisitive than females.
The water visibility around the Neptune Island generally reaches its peak around September and October, whilst late November is the start of the Long-nosed Fur Seal pupping season. These newborns will not enter the pristine waters until the Autumn.
Autumn: Mar-May, Eyre Peninsula
In April, there is typically a boost in Great White Shark numbers to the Neptune Islands area, with very large mature females measuring over five metres in length present. This is also the season that delivers the warmest water temperatures, although Southern Ocean currents limit the temperature to around 20 degrees Celsius.
The Neptune Islands Conservation Park is home to a colony of over 40,000 Long-nosed Fur Seals. Although pups are born in summer, they do not venture into the water until April, which spurs the arrival of the larger females that prey upon these inexperienced swimmers. The difference between male and female Great White Sharks is quite noticeable, with the females weighing almost double their male counterparts.