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Ningaloo Reef Wildlife – What happens at Ningaloo & when does it happen?

Ningaloo Reef, a haven for marine life enthusiasts, is shedding its hidden gem status as travellers are increasingly recognising it as a must-visit destination thanks to its pristine wilderness.

Ningaloo is famous around the world for whale sharks. It was one of the first places in the world to establish an ecotourism industry based on swimming with these gentle giants, but Ningaloo offers much more wildlife and marine life than just whale sharks!

Coral Spawning

In March and April each year, the coral spawns 7-10 days after the full moon, releasing billions of tiny eggs and sperm into the water column. This in itself can be a spectacular site, but as it occurs during the middle of the night it is rarely witnessed.

The effects of the coral spawning though are hard to miss as the coral spawning is a major source of food for many marine animals.

Manta Rays

Manta Rays feed on different types of coral spawning, but unlike the whale sharks that only visit Ningaloo for a few months each year, Manta Rays are seen along Ningaloo all year round. We are very lucky to be one of the only places in the world where you can reliably encounter Manta Rays year round and be able to interact by snorkelling with these beautiful & graceful animals in shallow coastal waters.

They come to Coral Bay to rest, feed, and at times mate – seeing a mating chain of Manta Rays is a visual roller coaster which has to be seen to appreciate! Feeding behaviours include surfacing feeding, line feeding and barrel rolling, another visual feast watching them roll gracefully underneath you. It is also speculated that some Manta Rays come to Ningaloo to give birth, as there have been large and heavily pregnant females sighted here for extended periods of time.

Mantas are the world’s largest rays, the coastal Manta Rays we encounter can grow up to 4.5m from wing tip to wing tip. They have no stinging barb in their tail like their cousins, therefore are harmless, with only their size and speed as defensive weapons. They are very smart animals and will at times check US out, which is an amazing experience to receive.

Individual Manta Rays can be identified by the markings on their belly which, like a fingerprint, remain constant through-out their life. The Coral Bay population numbers over 1,100 individuals that have been sighted in the area at various times and there is a core resident population of 30-40 that frequent the Bay regularly.

On board Shore Thing, you have a great opportunity to snorkel with these beautiful & naturally inquisitive creatures. There are known locations that the Manta Rays frequent year round, if they are there we can snorkel with them! At a few of the dive and snorkel sites we visit there are also known cleaning stations for Manta Rays, which is a more common sight in the Autumn months.

Dolphins & Dugongs

Ningaloo Reef is home to a small population of Dugongs, the only vegetarian marine mammal, that come in to feed on the rich seagrass beds found scattered throughout reef areas as well as the Exmouth Gulf.  Dugongs are classified as endangered, grow up to 3m long, weigh up to 400kg and can live for up to 70 years. They are related to elephants, are also called ‘sea-cows’ and are closely linked to the myth of mermaids. Naturally shy animals and not as easy to spot (as they have no dorsal fin and seldom at the surface), we don’t see them every tour, but it’s always a thrill when we do!

Thought to be some of the smartest animals on earth, a few species of Dolphins can be seen in Ningaloo Reef waters, with the most common being the Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin and Australian Humpback Dolphin, feeding on fish, squid, and shrimp.

Very social and playful, Bottlenose Dolphins form friendships that last decades hunting, mating and protecting each other. They like to surf in the waves and wakes of boats and swim through self-made bubble rings, swimming up to 35km an hour.

Unlike Bottlenose Dolphins, the Humpback Dolphins tend to be skittish around boats and people and are usually seen in pairs or smaller pods. Despite Ningaloo Reef being home to the highest known density population of Humpback Dolphins in Australia, that number is only estimated at 150 individuals!

Humpback Whales

When the waters off the Ningaloo coast start to cool down in June, it signals the time to keep your eyes out on the horizon for Humpback Whales. Humpback Whales migrate from Antarctica north along the Western Australian coastline, some reaching the warm waters of the Kimberley region. They are known for their spectacular displays, breaching, spy-hopping and being genuinely curious of boats.

Around Ningaloo, the Exmouth Gulf is a very important resting area for mothers and their calves. For some individuals, this is as far north as they migrate, so there is a large population of Humpback Whales calling Ningaloo Reef their second home each year.

They can be seen breaching from good vantage points on shore, or there is no better platform to witness their movements than from Shore Thing! Our elevated helm ensures you have the best possible view of the marine life surrounding the vessel.

If you’d like the opportunity to swim with Humpback Whales, check out our 7 Night Humpback Whale Safari package.

Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks are slow-moving and feed on microscopic organisms. They are famous for their massive size, with the largest confirmed individual recorded at 18.8m in length. Ningaloo Reef offers one of the largest, most reliable and best managed Whale Shark aggregations in the world. An estimated 300-500 Whale Sharks make their way to Ningaloo annually around the time of the mass coral spawning event and seasonal nutrient upwellings. 85 percent of the Whale Sharks that visit Ningaloo are juvenile males, with an average size of 5m.

Whale Shark tours are day snorkelling tours only (scuba diving interactions not permitted) and available from Coral Bay between March and June, or from Exmouth between March through to the end of July and more often than not, even into August and September.

While swimming with majestic whale sharks isn’t available on the Shore Thing due to local licensing restrictions, you can create an unforgettable Ningaloo adventure by combining your time on the reef with us, with a separate day whale shark tour! This way, you’ll experience the best of both worlds during your Ningaloo holiday.

Check out our 7 Night Whale Shark Wonder Week package

Marine Turtles

From October and over the summer months, marine turtles aggregate in their thousands, to mate and nest along the Ningaloo coast beaches. Loggerhead, Hawksbill and Green turtles come ashore to nest during the cool of the night and may sometimes nest multiple times over the course of the summer. Hatchlings emerge approximately 60 days later with a mad dash down to the waters edge, dodging seagulls, bungarras and ghost crabs. Once reaching the shoreline they then have larger fish & sharks to contend with – it’s a tough life as a baby turtle and supposedly only 1 in 1000 make it to adulthood!

With this in mind, we are reminded of how incredibly privileged we are to be seeing turtles practically every day, both from Shore Thing and in-water interactions whilst snorkelling and scuba diving.

Want to know more about what Sail Ningaloo can offer you? 

3 Night Snorkel & Dive Getaway

5 Night Ningaloo Escape

8 Night Ultimate Ningaloo