5 amazing animals to see on the Great Barrier Reef
WORDS: CAMILLA WAGSTAFF
One of the best things about visiting the Great Barrier Reef (aside from the sunshine, white beaches and crystal blue waters) is the abundance of wildlife you’re likely to see while you’re there.
Stretching 2300 kilometres along the north-east coast of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a whopping 1625 types of fish, 600 types of soft and hard corals, 133 varieties of sharks and rays and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins!
Here are just 5 of the iconic species you might spy. Get your checklist ready!
6 of the world’s 7 marine turtles call the Great Barrier Reef home for all or part of their lives, with thousands migrating from all over the world to the southern Great Barrier Reef Islands to nest every few years.
Some marine turtles, including Greens, Loggerheads and Hawksbills are spotted all the time. Others, like Flatbacks, and Olive Ridleys, are known to live in the neighbourhood, but are a little more elusive. Unfortunately, Leatherbacks have become extremely rare indeed. All are considered vulnerable or endangered.
Look out for surfacing turtles in shallow reef flats and seagrass beds. If you spot a turtle, approach slowly and with caution, they will quickly slip away if they feel threatened.
The largest known species of bivalve mollusc, these clams can grow up to a meter and a half long!
They vary in colour from brown to purple to electric blue, depending on the type of zooxanthellae (tiny, photosynthetic organisms that give corals their colour), living in their area.
You’ll usually find them in warm reef flats and shallow lagoons. Remember to look but not touch; clams are animals too, and will get stressed if you get too close!
White Tip Reef Shark
One of the most common and easily recognisable of Great Barrier Reef sharks, White Tips are named for the white tips on their first dorsal and tail fins.
Growing up to 2 meters long, you might see them resting on the sandy bottoms of the reef or in coastal caves during the day (sometimes in large groups!).
Like most sharks, they become more active at night, hunting mostly bottom-dwelling fish, octopus, lobsters and crabs.
One of the largest reef fish you’ll find in the world, these guys can grow to 2.3 meters and weigh almost 200 kilograms! Males are usually blue and green with an intricate geometric pattern on their heads and side body, while the females are more reddish bronze.
Most Maori Wrasse spend their days feeding on invertebrates in coral beds, and their nights sleeping in coastal caves.
Be sure not to touch one if you come close; they have a protective mucous coating that when removed can leave them vulnerable to infection and disease.
The average Humpback will migrate around 5000km every year, making their journey one of the longest of any migratory mammal on Earth.
You’ll find them in reef waters between July and September, as they’re heading north to warmer waters to calve, then again as they head south to feed.
Curious and charismatic, Humpback Whales are known for their water acrobatics and incredible breaching techniques. They will often come right up to your vessel to say hello, or to say ‘back off!’ if they have calves in tow.
A new way to visit the reef
Want to get up close and personal with these and many more creatures, and contribute to vital Great Barrier Reef Marine Park research? Check out Wild Mob’s volunteer conservation adventures in the Great Barrier Reef.
You’ll be trained to conduct scientific monitoring surveys alongside Wild Mob’s scientists. And have an incredible holiday while doing it!
Discover new places, meet inspiring people, make a real difference to the world. Now that’s a holiday worth having.
Images courtesy © Wild Mob, Malcom Browne, Gustavo Gerdel, and Charlotte Beloe (CC)
Camilla is a travel, culture and food writer based in Sydney, Australia. Her writing has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Luxury Travel Magazine, The Carousel and In/Out blog. She is currently working at conservation not-for-profit Wild Mob, who empower everyone to make a difference to the environment by taking them on volunteer conservation adventures to the world’s most unique an beautiful places.
Join us on Our Planet Travel’s eco adventure: