The Whitsundays are host to a diverse variety of sea life, from tropical species found in their own micro-climates exclusive to this region, to an abundant range of colourful shoals of reef dwellers found throughout the tropical waters of the Indo-pacific region.
It is not unusual to become face to face with a friendly (and rather large) Maori Wrasse or an exuberant Giant Trevally with attitude. It is often stated by happy visitors that snorkelling in the Whitsundays is like “Swimming in a Fish Bowl”.
One of the best ways to really appreciate the huge variety of the species here is to simply “Slow Down” when snorkelling, as the most colourful and extraordinary varieties are actually quite timid and small. Over the years, we have learned that there is much more than meets the eye by just ‘floating’ around.
Over the years we have seen some strange, almost alien, marine creatures like Wobbegong, Nudibranch and other weird, colourful inhabitants which are outstanding to look at.
A few of the special locations which we visit, when we can, are inhabited by some of the more unusual sea creatures such as the Shovel nosed sharks, varieties of stingray, as well as the regal Manta Ray – many of which are more than 3 metres across.
Some of our permanent marine residents are not necessarily fish. Of the seven species of marine turtles in the world, six occur in Australian waters:
- Flatback turtle (Natator depressus)
- Green turtle (Chelonia mydas)
- Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)
- Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea)
- Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
- Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea)
We have a variety of these turtles which are resident here, mainly the Green Turtle but also, in smaller numbers, the Flatback, Hawksbill and Leatherback.
As the Whitsundays is an important breeding area for Sea Turtles, at certain times of the year we get to witness an activity (censored) which must occur for the species to continue. Various nesting sites are places which we visit (when permissions are approved) and it is always with awe that we realize the difficulties that these gracious creatures have to endure in their cycle of life.
Other sea dwellers include the evasive “Dugong” – (a mammal which is also called the Manatee in the Northern hemisphere). Not very common these days, however, protection and observation by our local, state and national government agencies are helping to achieve an increase in these gentle ‘cows’ of the sea. We have a few locations here where we can occasionally glimpse them.
Our ‘premier’ aquatic visitor has got to be the majestic Humpback Whale which migrates annually from the Antarctic waters to give birth to their young, as well as rekindle the next population. They appear in the Whitsundays from July to September and usually give birth in the sheltered and protected areas around our inshore islands.
Any visitor lucky enough to witness their passage through Whitsunday waters is absolutely gobsmacked by their size, presence and awareness of us as we observe them. With Humpback numbers definitely on the increase, it almost seems that they want to observe us humans also as we have had many encounters where they simply will not go away from the boat.
People often ask – “are there sharks”? – to which we reply, yes, there are sharks in all the waters of the world’s oceans. However, if you should see one then you are most privileged, as by day, our small reef sharks are very timid and it is quite difficult to get close to them.
We do host a variety of reef sharks in the Whitsundays, mainly Black tipped and Yellow tipped which are quite small at around 1 metre fully grown. Occasional Bronze whalers and Tiger sharks are spotted by divers further out from our Islands but fortunately, the Great Whites do not like our warmer sea temperatures so do not venture this far north.
Dolphins are not very common with the Indo Pacific (Humpback), Bottle nose and ‘Spinner’ being the main species we see in our waters. As the Whitsundays are inside the Barrier reef, our seas do not receive much in the way of ocean swells, a force that dolphins love to surf on so there is not much surface activity, unless the Spinners are putting on a show.