despite it’s name sharks are not the main attraction here. there are, however, so many other things to see in shark bay it’s hard to know where to start. so let’s back right up.
we left horrocks – which as a special nod to nat, harry potter’s greatest fan, we called horcrux – and briefly stopped in northhampton for a bit of fuel and a coffee. nice (not so) old church: it was built in the 1930ies.
and for those of you who think our life is all adventure and sights at every turn: there is a fair bit of what you see in the picture above to endure every day. mind you, i like it.
shark bay from the space shuttle.
to put this into a different perspective: from denham (or monkey mia, which we will talk about later) it is about 400km to geraldton and 360km to carnarvon, the nearest ‘cities’. in between there are some roadhouses, not a lot more. so if you don’t like driving this might not be the country for you.
imagine you have been driving along for a couple of hours, seeing other cars every few minutes or so. after some 250 km you sort of turn sharp left, drive 50 km more and then there it is … tadaaa! can’t quite see it? here is a closeup.
no, not the cute dinner plate sized jellyfish: the things next to it.
ok, let me zoom in further.
behold the stromatolites. never heard of them? most people haven’t but these guys were around long before more complex lifeforms evolved. these microbial mats filled with life, especially cyanobacteria, appeared about 3.7 billion years ago, peaked about 1 billion years ago and are now very rare. over long periods of time they form these rounded rock-like structures.
their best trick is photosynthesis: they generate oxygen and they are thought to be responsible for raising the oxygen content in our atmosphere to the point where higher lifeforms could develop. thank you little guys!
continue the drive and a mere further 50 km or so the next bombshell awaits: shell beach! (see what i did there .. embarrassing, right?). well the beach is actually called shell beach and it’s not hard to tell where it got it’s name from.
both the stromatolites and the shells living and dying in the waters off shell beach owe their existence to the shallow waters at shark bay. the peninsula limits the flow of fresh water into the bay, which combined with the shallow depth means the water can get quite warm and is about two times as salty as the ocean. many predators can’t stomach the water there and so the shells thrive unchecked.
just a little further up the road is monkey mia. and these guys are the superstars of shark bay: the dolphins of monkey mia. the research station there was set up some 30 years ago and since then the dolphins come in every day for a little fish. the emphasis is on ‘a little’ because the objective is to ensure they don’t forget to hunt for their own food.
the rangers are also a lot more careful now than they were about 15 years ago when we were here the first time, and limit the interactions to ensure the dolphins have enough time for their own social interactions.
two of the most intelligent creatures on the planet sharing a token of friendship. (1)
puck the dolphin liked it. it was a fish. it’s what they eat. importantly, however, nat kept the family tradition: when we visited monkey mia first kris was also selected to hand-feed a dolphin.
nat was ecstatic. and then this: a juvenile greenback turtle. apparently this one is living under the pier, where she shares the neighbourhood with a giant groper (a fish, not a #metoo moment) and a red lionfish. a dangerous place.
it was difficult to tear ourselves away from the marine wildlife.
and there was still the drive out to cape peron, where the blue sea meets the red dirt and the white sand. literally.
apparently on a good day you can even see sharks, whales, dolphins and perhaps the odd dugong. not today, though. but the drive through the sandy tracks was worth it.
shark bay may be far away from just about everything, but it’s definitely always worth the trip.
nat’s only regret is that she didn’t get to see a thorny devil … well two amazing animal encounters in a day is already cool, three would probably blow our minds. safety first.
and here are some impressions from the air. a slower edit this time.
(1) i am of course referring to the dolphins, the second most intelligent creature on the planet, and humans, the third most intelligent creature. as everyone who has read the hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy knows ….