Mega Fauna

The ‘Big Three’ of The Ningaloo, refers to the Mega Fauna (big animals) of the ocean.

These three are the:

* Whale Shark
* Manta Ray
* … and Humpback Whale.

You can read all about them below as well as learn about the Flora and Fauna of the area.

Whale sharks

The Whale shark is the world’s largest living shark, believed to have a life span of around 100 years, reaching sexual maturity at around 30 years of age (8m in length). They can grow up to 12-14 meters in length, even being recorded up to a whopping 18 meters! In the Ningaloo the average size whale shark is around 4-8 meters long, and the majority are male. It is still mystery to biologists where most of the females are, as other aggregations around the world are also primarily male and a similar size to those in the Ningaloo.

Whale Sharks swim and feed in the waters around the Ningaloo Marine Park from March to September before disappearing from the area for another year, although there are occasional sightings of them year-round.

Whale sharks are filter feeders, feeding on plankton and other small organisms such as krill, squid larvae and small fish, which they scoop up in their huge mouths. Although filter feeders, whale sharks do have teeth, 300 rows in fact. They are situated right at the back of their mouth and can use them for grinding up tiny fish they may swallow.

Many researchers believe that whale shark movement patterns could be a food-driven migration pattern. Whale sharks are generally encountered singly, but aggregations of over a hundred animals have been seen in areas of high food concentration. For example, whale sharks appear at locations where seasonal food ‘pulses’ occur; at Christmas Island, off Western Australia, the appearance of whale sharks is linked to a red land crab migration event. In Belize, whale sharks feed on snapper spawning events. Here in the Ningaloo, it is linked with the coral spawning in early March.

Whale sharks can be identified by a distinct pattern of white spots and stripes against a dark blue/grey background. The skin on the back of the whale shark is thicker and tougher than that of any other animal in the world and the spots and stripes on the whale sharks provide camouflage in the surrounding blue of the water by breaking up their outline.

Manta Rays

Like whale sharks, manta rays are filter feeders and have a large toothless mouth, which they use like a sieve to scoop up plankton and krill.

Their wingspans measure several meters across and the largest species can measure a massive 7 meters. These wings enable them to swim at rapid speeds, occasionally leaping out of the water and landing with a loud slap.

Unlike stingrays, manta rays do not have a sharp barb, making them safe to swim, snorkel or dive with. In the Ningaloo, mantas can be seen from May to September, sometimes in great numbers and as a result it is not unusual to see them on a scuba dive.

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whales travel through the Ningaloo between June and November as part of their annual migration.

The Humpback whale is one of the larger species of whale and the most active. They can often been seen slapping their tails and pectoral fins on the surface of the water or fully breaching out of the water and landing with a huge splash.

The humpbacks travel this area after spending the summer months feeding in the Antarctic waters, they then begin the long journey through winter up past the Ningaloo, towards Broome and the Kimberly to then travel back down. During this journey the females will give birth while the males escort them, and as they have a long gestation period the males then mate again immediately with the females. Watching the humpback calves play in the water and learn from their parents is an incredible experience.

Flora and Fauna

The flora of the Cape Range Peninsula is very diverse with over 630 plant species recorded. It is much more diverse than other arid and semi-arid areas in Western Australia and is known to have twice as many species as other similar areas within the same bio-geographic region. The peninsula is also a region of bio-geographic overlap and therefore has a diversity of species from temperate, arid and tropical botanical provinces.

Fauna in the Cape Range will not disappoint. Look out for kangaroos on the journey through the National Park as they are many about, particularly at night or dusk, Black-footed Wallabies hide in the gorge faces and Echidnas rustle through the tall grasses. Other animals you may see on your journey include plenty of reptiles; snakes and lizards including the beautiful Perentie, are often seen, as well as thorny devils and even the occasional dingo.

The bird life in this region is incredible. Many species of waders can be spotted hiding around the mangroves, birds of prey soaring overhead such as the Osprey, Sea Eagle and Wedge-tailed Eagle, Bustards, Galahs and Corellas rummage in the tall grasses, and seabirds such as the Shearwater and Crested Turn can be seen skimming the waves and bombing into school of fish. Emus are also often spotted throughout the National Park and also strolling through Exmouth town, especially in the summer, which is quite a sight. The Emu is the largest bird native to Australia and can reach up to 2m in height.

These are but a few of the incredible flora and fauna in the region that you will see throughout the area if you have a day off from diving!