Located half way up the West Coast of Australia is the spectacular Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It covers an area of more than 2.2 million hectares and trust us when we say this… it should definitely be on your Bucket List!
Shark Bay was placed on the World Heritage list in 1991 and when you visit you will understand why. It has a unique and beautiful combination of wildlife, flora and stunning scenery, unlike anywhere we’ve seen before. Shark Bay is actually comprised of two bays sheltered by peninsulas and a long island. It is known by the local Malgana Aboriginal community as Gutharraguda (meaning ‘two waters’).
About 70% of the Shark Bay World Heritage Area is made up of marine environment. The average depth of the clear sheltered waters is only about nine metres. The ‘W’ shape results in coastline over 1,500km made up of tidal flats, mangrove communities, white shell beaches, reefs and cliffs.
The heritage area is home to a range of plants and animals found in the wild nowhere else of Earth. It is also home to the famous marine stromatolites, which are living fossils representing the oldest forms of life on Earth.
The stars of the show
Shark Bay is a wildlife fanatics dream! It is home to more than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, 240 species of bird, 820 species of fish, more than 80 coral and 218 bivalve species. It’s also an important area for migratory species including shorebirds and humpback whales.
Shark bay is one of the last strongholds for some of the world’s most vulnerable species, including the green and loggerhead turtle and the majestic dugong!
Have you seen a dugong?
Dugongs (Dugong dugon) are listed as vulnerable to extinction due to serious reductions in their population. This rapid drop in numbers has been caused by numerous factors, including loss and degradation of important habitats (such as the seagrass meadows found in Shark Bay), their slow reproductive rate, getting caught in fishing lines and collisions with boats. These poor guys (like many of our marine friends) have a lot to contend with!
Dugongs feed almost exclusively on seagrass and it is reported that they eat up to 50kg per day! This feeding on these grasses is why they are sometimes known as the “Sea Cow”. They can live up to 70 years old and together with the manatee form part of the order of Sirenia (same family).
Shark Bay is home to approximately 10% of the world’s Dugong population and is therefore one of the best places in the world to see a dugong. So if seeing a dugong in the wild is on your Bucket List then this is the place to be.
Best way to see a dugong
To give yourself the best chance of catching a glimpse of this elusive mammal we recommend taking a cruise with the team from Perfect Nature Cruises, on their luxury sailing catamaran Aristocrat 2. We had the most amazing morning wildlife cruise onboard the Aristocrat. Jade and her team were incredible, extremely knowledgeable, and friendly plus the boat is just beautiful! Sailing on the beautiful turquoise water and watching the scenery pass by was breathtaking! What better way to spend the day than to take a yacht out searching for marine life! We saw turtles, dolphins and spent time with a mother dugong and calf! We watched in awe as they relaxed and grazed on sea grass seemingly unaware we were even there. They were a marvel to watch.
Interestingly, dugongs are believed to be the inspiration behind the myth of the mermaid, as sailors caught a glimpse of this incredible animal and speculated on its identity. The word dugong actually translates to “lady of the sea” in the Malay language!
Dugongs are most active in the months of August – May, we did our trip in April and the weather was beautiful and dugong sightings were fantastic! However, when the weather is cooler and some of the Dugongs move to warmer pastures, Perfect Nature Cruises go in search for the sponging dolphin, therefore no matter the time of year, this is a yacht trip you won’t want to miss!
Another benefit of cruising with the Aristocrat 2 is that it can also include a visit to Blue Lagoon Pearl Farm. You can also jump in for an energizing salt spa in the ‘boom net’ at the back of the boat. This was a fun bonus and great way to finish the cruise!
If that wasn’t enough, with a morning cruise, you also get a free sunset cruise included! So we were able to return later in the day to board the Aristocrat 2 a second time and enjoy the most breathtaking sunset cruise. There is a fully licensed Ocean Lounge Bar onboard and so you can watch the beautiful sunset and changing colours reflecting over the ocean while sipping on champagne! What more could you ask for?
Also, you can be reassured that wildlife cruises aboard Aristocat 2 have been certified by Ecotourism Australia. The Eco Certification program has stringent criteria and identifies genuine ecotourism products which offer insights into Australia’s natural areas with absolute minimal impact.
Check out the video below for a taste of what to expect on a cruise with Perfect Nature Cruises.
Where to stay?
We stayed at the RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort which lies within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area. It is right on the beachfront and only steps away from one of the best known dolphin encounters in the world, where resident dolphins come right up to shore to greet tourists. It is also a few sandy steps away from where you board your Perfect Nature Cruise boat!
Have you seen a dugong? Tell us where and if you have any questions about this trip just leave us a comment below.