Shark Bay, Western Australia: World Heritage Site

Red sand dunes at Cape Peron
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Shark Bay's name evokes images of deadly, predatory, man-eating sharks. In fact, Shark Bay on the western coast of Western Australia, a World Heritage site, is more home to dugongs, dolphins, and stromatolites. It is a vast 2.3 million hectares of a fascinating aquatic world, a diver's paradise (where diving is allowed), and a place where you can almost shake hands with the dolphins.

Where Is It? 

Shark Bay is located on the westernmost point of the Australian continent, 800 to 900 kilometers north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia.

How Did It Get Its Name?

On his second voyage to Australia in 1699, the English explorer and pirate, William Dampier, gave Shark Bay its name. It seemed he felt that the area was infested by sharks, probably mistaking the dolphins for sharks.

Where Do You Find the Dolphins?

Bottlenose dolphins abound in Shark Bay. At Monkey Mia, they come close to shore and interact with visitors who wade into the knee-deep water.

What Are Dugongs?

They are aquatic herbivorous animals having forelimbs adapted as flippers and no hind limbs. The Shark Bay population of about 10,000 dugongs is said to be one of the largest in the world.

What Are Stromatolites?

Found at their most diverse and in great abundance at Hamelin Pool, stromatolites are representative of lifeforms some 3500 million years ago. They are shaped like algae and wave around in the daytime during photosynthesis.

Are There Whales in Shark Bay?

Humpback whales use the bay as a staging post in their annual migration. Reduced by past exploitation to 500-800 whales in 1962, the west coast whales are now estimated at 2000-3000.

Can You Swim With the Sharks?

You wouldn't want to swim with man-eating sharks but if you travel farther north to Ningaloo Reef you can swim with the world's largest sharks, the whale shark.

How Do You Get to Shark Bay?

By road, take the Brand Highway to Geraldton and the North West Coastal Highway to Overlander, then turn left to Denham. Going by road from Perth to Shark Bay takes some 10 hours. For a shorter trip, fly to Denham or Monkey Mia.

What's Denham?

Once a pearling port, Denham is Shark Bay's main population center. If you plan to stay overnight or for a few days in Denham or Monkey Mia, book well in advance as accommodation may be difficult to come by during holiday periods.

When's the Best Time to Visit Shark Bay?

June to October (winter and most of the spring) are good times as the winds are lighter and daytime temperature is in the mid-20s C. The summer months can be extremely hot.

What Are Popular Shark Bay Activities?

Boating, diving, snorkeling, watching marine life, fishing (outside sanctuary zones), windsurfing and swimming are popular. There are numerous boat ramps. If going diving, bring your filled scuba tanks and other diving gear.