The Weird Wonderful Wildlife of Ningaloo Reef
Many people think that the Ningaloo is special because of the visiting whale sharks and humpback whales. Or maybe the resident manta rays that call the bay home. But we know that there’s a whole lot more to it than that! With over 250 corals and over 500 species of fish, not to mention the molluscs, crustaceans, cetaceans and cnidarians, there are so many amazing animals to encounter here!
Here’s a few of our favourite weird and wonderful creatures that you might be lucky enough to encounter on a snorkel here in Coral Bay –
Ornate Eagle Ray (Aetomylaeus vespertilio)
This incredible ray is the largest of all the eagle rays, and definitely the most elusive – listed as Endangered and with global populations decreasing, very little is known about these incredible looking rays. Found on coral reefs in northern Australia, Indonesia & the Red Sea, Coral Bay is one of just a few places with sighting records in Australia. If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these, report it to local research groups.
Leopard Shark (Stegostoma fasciatum)
These sharks love warm water, and are mostly seen on the Ningaloo in Summer & Autumn. The adults have leopard-like spots, while the young have stripes (a sneaky camouflage to make them look like venomous sea snakes) – so in some places they’re known as Zebra Sharks. Like many of the smaller sharks, they lay eggs which are anchored to seagrass or the seafloor with adhesive fibres.
For those who have never heard of nudibranchs, they’re more or less a sea slug (shell-less marine molluscs to be precise). But they’re a seriously impressive sea slug – with tiny horns for sensing chemicals, unique shapes and a whole rainbow of colours – they’re one of the most colourful creatures on earth. There are over 3000 different types around the world, and hundreds of these can be found on the Ningaloo.
Six of the world’s seven species of turtle can be found in the waters around Coral Bay. Three of them – green, loggerhead and hawksbill turtles – nest on nearby beaches, while flatback, leatherback and olive ridley turtles can be spotted swimming nearby. The leatherback is the largest of all turtles, reaching the size of a small car. While these oceanic giants are very elusive, it’s likely you’ll be able to spot one of their turtle-y awesome relatives – the green sea turtle – get yourself on our 3 Hour Turtle Tour to increase your chances!
A large and rare species of ray, these guys don’t have a venomous spine on their tail like other stingrays. Instead, they have a mix of thorns and small pointed scales all over their back which can protect them from predators. They reach a maximum size of 1.2m across, but are often difficult to spot because their sandy colour blends in with the seafloor. Usually the easiest way to find them is when they’re feeding – when digging in the sand they create a big mess of floating sediment.
Banded Snake Eel
You could easily confuse one of these for a sea snake, with their long skinny body and black & white stripes, and that’s exactly what they’re hoping for. They use their deceptive appearance as camouflage so predators think they’re a venomous snake, when in reality they’re harmless. These guys spend a lot of their time buried in the substrate, and sometimes leave winding tracks on the sand’s surface. When threatened, they burrow quickly into the sand, using their tail to dig a burrow so they disappear backwards.
If you want to see some of these magical creatures for yourself, jump onboard a snorkel tour on Nhanya Ku, or spend a whole day out on the reef with our expert wildlife spotters onboard Kurni Ku. There are so many amazing animals waiting out there for you to discover! .