The landscape surrounding Shark Bay is comprised of north-south facing peninsulas, cliffs and islands which separate inlets and bays from each other and the Indian ocean.
Shark Bay has an area of more than 2 million hectares, with over 1 million hectares protected in marine parks, marine nature reserves, terrestrial natural reserves and national parks. The Shark Bay region represents a meeting point of three major climactic regions and forms a transition zone between two major botanical provinces.
The Shark Bay region is an area of outstanding zoological importance. Isolation of a variety of habitats on and around islands and peninsulas has produced fascinating marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Shark Bay is renowned for its marine fauna. The region has one of the largest populations of dugong in the world, at approximately 16,000. This is approximately 12.5% of the world’s dugong population.
The bay was originally named “Sharks Bay” by the English buccaneer William Dampier in the late 17th century. The name was given due to the large number of sharks caught by Dampier’s fleet while fishing. Tiger sharks and other smaller shark species are still abundant, especially during the warmer summer months.
Dolphins are abundant. Humpback whales use the bay as a staging post in their migration along the coast. Killer whales and southern right whales have also been sighted.
Green and loggerhead turtles are found in Shark Bay near their southern limits. The turtles come to nest on the beaches of Dirk Hartog Island and Peron Peninsula. Dirk Hartog is the most important nesting site for loggerheads in Western Australia. Six species of sea snake have also been recorded.
Terrestrial fauna are also of great importance in Shark Bay. The area has five of the 26 threatened Australian mammal species. They include the burrowing bettong, rufous hare-wallaby, banded hare-wallaby, Shark Bay mouse and western barred bandicoot.
Over 230 bird species have been recorded in the area. the region supports over 100 recorded species of amphibians and reptiles (supporting nine endemic species). Many species of both bird and herpetofauna are at the northern or southern limit of their range.
The mallee fowl is a large bird, approximately double the size of a domestic chicken. The male builds a nest or “mound” to incubate eggs. The mounds are large, using up to three to five meters of soil and vegetation. The male guards the nest and protects the eggs, while females play no role in caring for the eggs. Mallee fowls were once widespread throughout the Shark Bay area. Feral foxes, cats and clearing of native vegetation caused populations to decline.
In 1997 and 1998, mallee fowl hatchlings were released into the park with the hope of re-establishing a long term viable population. Three mounds have recently been sighted in the park, which confirms that mallee fowls are breeding and new mallee fowls are being produced.
Malle fowls are a part of the successful conservation program known as Project Eden, developed by the Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW). Faure Island (located in Shark Bay), is a wildlife sanctuary that is run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
More than 620 plant species have been recorded in the Shark Bay region. Approximately 145 are at the northern limit of their range, 39 at their southern limit and 25 considered rare or threatened at the national level.
Mangroves exist only in small, relatively isolated areas in the southern and western areas of the bay. Shark Bay has 12 of the 25 species of sea grass that exist in Australia. The most abundant species is Amphibolis antarctica, covering 90% of the seagrass bed area.
Shark Bay is the traditional country of the Malgana and Nhanda groups. The Malgana name for Shark Bay is Gutharraguda, which means ‘two bays’ or ‘two waters’. The record of aboriginal occupation of Shark Bay extends back 30,000 years, and a considerable number of archaeological aboriginal midden sites have been found, especially on Peron Peninsula and Dirk Hartog. Today the Malgana people collaborate with Parks and Wildlife to conserve the many environmentally and culturally important sites located throughout Shark Bay.
Shark Bay is also the site of the first recorded European landing in Western Australia, with the visit of Dirk Hartog in 1616, followed by William Dampier in 1699. Currently, Shark Bay has a population of approximately 1000 people, principally located in the towns of Denham and Useless Loop. The economy of the region includes tourism, fishing, mining and pastoralism.
One of a Kind
The Wooramel Seagrass Bank in Shark Bay is the world’s largest seagrass bed. It is 1030 sq km in area and has taken 5,000 years to develop.
Shark Bay is the most abundant and diverse microbial ecosystem in the world. The Stromatilies are microscopic organisms or “cyanobacteria” that concentrate and recycle nutrients which combine with sedimentary grains to form towers of rock-like materials. These “living fossils” are two to three million years old.