With very heavy downpours expected to last most of today, the tour operator cancelled our cruise out to the seagrass beds to (hopefully) view dugongs, turtles, rays and other marine creatures grazing in their natural environment. We’ve been rescheduled for that one tomorrow morning – fingers crossed that the weather takes a turn for the better soon.
Thankfully we got to see the dolphins at the beach before the rain. But the rest of the day was looking very bleak, so we decided to jump into the car and drive over to Denham, about 26km away. On the way, we stopped in at the Ocean Park, which promoted a shark feeding session every hour. We had a really good time there, but I’d hesitate to say that shark feeding was a highlight. Blink and you’d miss it.
All of the marine life at the park is native to Shark Bay. There was a shallow tank to replicate the environment many of the creatures live in, which is only about one and a half metres deep for up to 500 metres distance from shore. Small lemon sharks and rays can be found there. We moved on to some larger pools with bigger fish, such as trevalley. The rain was coming down quite heavily as we moved to some outdoor pools with limited shelter. It was a bit of a challenge to see the fish in them clearly, especially with all the rain falling on the surface of the water.
In the second outdoor pool, the ‘shark feeding’ took place. Our guide dangled a couple of pieces of fish on a line down over the water. He dipped it in once or twice, then quickly withdrew it again as the tiger shark approached it. There was thrashing in the water, a large splash, and the bait was withdrawn as the shark swam away. It was theatre, but with a purpose, as he was making the point that sharks do not require more than about 500g of protein per day and are not the eating machines people think they are. This shark was not hungry and did not need to be fed.
We moved indoors to a number of smaller pools and tanks where other local marine life was on show. We saw sea snakes, moray eels, poisonous fish, squid, colourful reef fish, clown fish and others. What I found most fascinating were the six stonefish sitting motionless on the bottom of a tank, looking for all the world like slime covered rocks. If you step on one, apparently the spike on the stonefish’s back can go straight through the sole of your shoe and you’re likely to be in unbearable pain for up to eighty hours, as nothing is likely to provide relief. Our guide said that when locals swim in Shark Bay they do the ‘shuffle’ to avoid inadvertently stepping on one, and they only swim at high tide so their feet don’t touch the bottom. Our guide was very knowledgeable and his passion for Shark Bay and its marine creatures was very evident. We really enjoyed the experience and stayed on there for lunch while it poured down in bucket loads outside.
From there we drove a few more km into Denham. It was raining heavily so there was no chance to get out of the car and stroll around, though it looked like a fairly inviting sort of place. Instead, we only stopped to have a quick look at the Old Pearler Restaurant, built many years ago from blocks of quarried coquina shells from Shell Beach. Then we went into the tourist information centre to view the footage taken on the sea bed of the wrecks of HMAS Sydney II and the German raider Kormoran (see my Geraldton post). It was still raining heavily when we returned to our accommodation. We are keeping our hopes up that fine weather is on its way and that tomorrow our marine life cruise will be able to go ahead a day later than planned.