Wild about Exmouth: Animal encounters from the reef to the range
Cover photo: Humpback whale breaching powerfully off the coast
Exmouth in Western Australia is known as a region of outstanding natural beauty. People from all over the world visit to enjoy the pristine beaches and explore the national park to take in the breathtaking views. But Exmouth – like the rest of Australia – is also home to a variety of extraordinary wildlife, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.
As a country, Australia is most famous for its marsupials, most notably our beloved koalas and iconic red kangaroos. Here in Ningaloo, a biodiversity hot spot, we have an incredible wildlife population for visitors to see and, in some cases, interact with. From whale sharks and humpback whales to rock wallabies, this part of Western Australia is a paradise for nature lovers.
While some of Exmouth’s wildlife is migratory, visiting only at certain times of the year, there’s still plenty of native wildlife to see all year round. So, let’s explore the diverse range of animal encounters waiting for you on your next visit to Exmouth.
In the water: Ningaloo Reef
The Ningaloo Reef is an underwater wonderland where turtles, rays, sharks, dolphins, and 500 fish species call home all year. But from March to August, the biggest fish in the ocean hangs around in the pristine waters of Ningaloo. Western Australia is one of only a few destinations worldwide where you can swim with whale sharks. Sightings of these gentle giants of the sea – they can grow up to 18 metres in length – are common in Exmouth between March and April. If you want to get a closer look, local tour companies operate interactive tours. For an experience of a lifetime, join one of the seasonal swims with whale shark tours. Despite their stature, whale sharks are harmless filter feeders. So don’t let their size put you off this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Read our blog about swimming with whale sharks in Ningaloo.
Humpback whales are another giant of the ocean, and they migrate to the Ningaloo area in their tens of thousands each year. You’ll be able to spot them between June to October. To see humpbacks in their natural habitat, join a local tour company on a whale-watching tour. If you’d like to swim with humpback whales in Ningaloo, you can do that too. Tours run from July/August to October in Exmouth.
Sea turtles are another big attraction for the region. Wildlife lovers visit the area to see the four species that call Exmouth home: loggerhead turtles, green turtles, hawksbill turtles and flatback turtles. Ningaloo is one of the most important nesting grounds in the world for loggerhead and green turtles. Juvenile sea turtles like to swim in the reef’s lagoons all year. Turtles nest between November to March, and you can even book a spot on a night-time tour with the Jurabi Turtle Centre from December to March. Seeing nesting turtles and hatchlings in their natural habitat is one of those quintessential Exmouth experiences you won’t want to miss.
Naturally shy creatures, dugongs, also called sea cows, are cousins of manatees. They inhabit Ningaloo’s warm waters throughout the year but are most active between September and May. The sheltered waters of Ningaloo are also home to bottlenose, humpback and spinner dolphins, and leopard and reef sharks. Don’t forget to look for manta rays as they cruise along the reef. Between April and November, they can also be found feeding alongside humpback whales and whale sharks.
Before you leave town, stop by the Ningaloo Aquarium and Discovery Centre. It’s a great way to meet some of Ningaloo Reef’s residents if you’d prefer to stay completely dry!
On the land: Cape Range National Park
Known for its spectacular landscape, Cape Range National Park is where you will find an abundance of local wildlife. The park is huge – over 50,000 hectares – the start of which begins just a 45-minute drive from Exmouth. Watch out for western red kangaroos, a common sight in the park. You can see them all year round, although kangaroos are the most active at dawn and dusk, as well as at night. They often hang out by the side of roads and consequently can fall victim to oncoming vehicles. So, take extra care when driving in Cape Range National Park. We covered this subject in a previous blog.
The second largest bird in the world – and the largest native bird in Australia – the emu inhabits Cape Range National Park. These flightless birds, known for their long necks and heads, can reach up to 2 metres. It’s not uncommon to see them strolling around town; you might even catch them strutting their stuff in the caravan park too.
Emus are naturally inquisitive creatures. But we can’t say the same for the black-footed rock wallaby. They are super shy and like to stay out of view by hiding in the cracks of the park’s steep gorges. Visiting Cape Range National Park early in the morning or late afternoon may increase your chance of seeing the rock wallaby. If you join one of the boat cruises along Yardie Creek, keep your eyes peeled for these small marsupials in their natural habitat.
Another quirky native to Australia is the spiky, slow-moving ant-eating echidna. Spot them in the wild as you explore Cape Range National Park. Exmouth is also rich in birdlife. Over 180 species of birds reside in the area or visit the Cape Range Peninsular, including the Australian bustard, sea osprey, wedge-tailed eagle, brahminy kite, eastern reef egret and spotted harrier. Other common birds include brown and grey-headed honeyeaters, fairy terns, galahs and cockatoos.
From the reef to the range, Exmouth is one of the most magical places on earth to see native and migratory wildlife. Numerous locally owned and operated tour companies offer wildlife tours. Whether you’re an adventure seeker or nature lover, there’s much to explore and discover here in Exmouth and Ningaloo’s natural environment.