1. Monkey Mia - pronounced Monkey My-a not Mee-a.
There is no doubt that the dolphins of Monkey Mia are one of the true wonders of Australia. The area was first settled by Europeans in the late nineteenth century and for a few brief years became a pearling station. However there was no regular water supply (the water at the caravan park now comes from the desalination plant at Denham) and the settlement disappeared.
In the early 1960s a woman named Mrs Watts started feeding the wild dolphins which followed her husband's fishing boat to a campsite on the shoreline. Today this feeding still occurs and Monkey Mia is a unique opportunity for humans to make contact with these mysterious and wonderful sea creatures.
Details about the dolphins:
(i) it is totally arbitrary as to when the dolphins come in to visit the visitors. It is more likely for them to visit during the morning but they have been known not to come in at all (two days in a period of two years) and to only pay one afternoon visit. The Rangers advise that people wanting to see the dolphins should be prepared to spend 24 hours at Monkey Mia. Bring a good book.
(ii) The Rangers do feed the dolphins a small amount of fish but they do not feed the dolphins at the same time each day. Therefore there is no pattern to the feeding. The dolphins will come in and not be fed. At other times they will be fed.
(iii) in November there is the mating season and the dolphins become more erratic in their visits to the shore during this time. There tend to be fewer dolphins at mating season than at other times.
(iii) the number of people passing through topped 700 in one day during the autumn school holidays. This doesn't mean that there were 700 people on the beach. It means that there were 700 people at Monkey Mia during the course of one day. The crowds on the beach probably did not exceed 400 at any one time.
(iv) in recent times there has been some concern over pollution from the toilets at the Monkey Mia Caravan park. The Australian Geographic asserted that the pollution had resulted in the death of a dolphin calf and the subsequent disappearance of a number of the regular dolphins.
(v) The notion, which some people have, that the dolphins are just waiting for their attentions is not accurate. The beach where the dolphins regularly appear is controlled and patrolled by rangers. Brochures and signs give clear instructions on what to do. The brochure Before you meet the dolphins of Monkey Mia is given to every visitor and the rangers make sure that its instructions about where to touch the dolphins and how to behave are strictly adhered to.
Australian Geographic published a lengthy article The Remarkable Dolphins of Monkey Mia in Issue 7 - July-Sept, 1987.
2. Hamelin Pool and the Stromatolites
If you take the road to Hamelin you reach Hamelin Pool a place where the peculiarities of Shark Bay have created hypersalination - twice the salination of normal seawater - and where strange domed stromatolites have been formed on the water's edge. These unusual formations are created by single celled organisms known as cyanbacteria and they grow at a rate of less than 1 mm per year. They are known as 'living fossils' because these cyanbacteria formations are probably as old as any form of life on earth.
Hamelin Pool is actually a landlocked marine basin partially separated from Shark Bay by the Faure Sill. This has helped to produce the hypersalination which in turn has ensured that the cyanbacteria has remained isolated from fish which would feed on them if the water was a little more agreeable.
3. Useless Loop
The one sign of industry in Shark Bay is the industrial salt township and saltpans of Useless Loop. The township has a population of about 200-250 people and has been operating since 1968. Its distance from Denham (25 km by sea and 250 km by road), and the fact that as a mining town it offers no accommodation for visitors, has ensured that only the most persistent of tourists make the journey to the small settlement. Access by road is restricted to 4WD vehicles only.
4. Eagle Bluff
About 20 km south of Denham is Eagle Bluff where a huge population of dugongs live. They can been seen in summer when they come close to the shore to feed on the sea grass in the area. It is claimed that Shark Bay has the world's largest population of dugongs.
5. Shell Beach
When he first arrived in Shark Bay William Dampier noted the unique shells of the area. On 7 August 1699 he wrote: 'The shore was lined thick with many other sorts of very strange and beautiful Shells, for variety of Colour and Shape, most finely spotted with Red, Black, or Yellow, &c. such as I have not seen any where but at this place. I brought away a great many of them; but lost all, except a very few, and those not the best.'
Today Shell Beach, signposted south of Denham beyond Eagle Bluff, is a source of wonder. The entire beach is made up of millions upon millions of tiny coquina shells and, at low tide, it is possible to walk a hundred metres into the bay all the time treading on a seemingly endless surface of shells.
The whole Shark Bay area has been the subject of controversy for some years now. The long term play is to develop the area as a Marine National Park and restrict the movement of visitors to the Monkey Mia Caravan Park, Denham, Nanga and a low level tourist development on Dirk Hartog Island. The idea is to concentrate all tourism on Denham and develop a series of trips from this central point.
The WA Department of Conservation and Land Management (CALM) has published Shark Bay: Discover Monkey Mia & Other Natural Wonders which, apart from having some truly wonderful photographs of the region (although who knows why the Tropic of Capricorn shot was included - it is nearly 300 km north of Denham), does have an excellent and interesting coverage of the region. Its detailed coverage of the fauna and flora of the area is particularly good. In Australian Geographic (Issue 14 - April/June, 1989) there is a lengthy article titled simply Shark Bay.