he incredible wildlife of the Margaret River region needs little introduction – after all, the region is set in one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, with several of the animal species found here not found anywhere else on the planet. If you’re a nature lover, there are few places in the world that make more sense to visit than Margaret River.
From under water wonders, to land dwellers, to the majesties of the sky, the Margaret River region is a smorgasbord for the senses when it comes to wildlife.
The best part? It isn’t even that hard to have genuine encounters with some of these amazing animals. In fact, for some, everyday life is filled with weird and wonderful animal encounters. Here, four locals share their amazing animal encounters (spoiler: none of them involve zoos).
From the scenic seaside town of Augusta, meet the oceans largest mammals on an extraordinary journey. From the icy cold feeding grounds of the Antarctic, to the warm waters of northern Australia and beyond, migrating Humpback whales fill Flinders Bay as they make their epic trek, the longest migration of any mammal on earth. Arriving mid-May and gracing the seas around Augusta up until late August or early September, dependent on the migration, you can get up close and personal with Naturaliste Charters, pioneers of Whale Watching in the Margaret River Region.
Competitive, curious and acrobatic, Humpback whales are one of the most spectacular whales to watch. A face to face encounter with an animal 200 times your size is an unforgettable experience. Hear thunderous slaps from flippers weighing several tons. Watch in awe as a whale weighing 40 tons rockets from the ocean in a spectacular breach, trailing sparkling streams of seawater before crashing back into the sea in a storm of white water.
Delight in the sight of Southern Right whales and their newborn calves, one-ton babies born in the bay in July and August. Each addition inspires hope for the future of the most endangered of the great whale species as they play and grow in preparation for their first migration south.
Rare Minke whales and the largest animal to ever have lived, the Blue whale are sometimes seen on our tours. Keep a close lookout for sea eagles and osprey soaring above the cliffs, pods of dolphins surfing the bow wave, the local seal colony, albatross wheeling on the wind and shearwaters skimming the swells.
Don’t forget to be on the lookout for whales whenever you’ve got an ocean view… they’re out there!
The team at Busselton Jetty Underwater Observatory have no shortage of stories about amazing encounters with ocean critters, but tour guide and qualified diver Kate Wolny’s stories of weekly underwater haircuts and ocean floor fin thieves take the proverbial cake.
The jetty’s pylons play host to Australia’s largest artificial reef, creating homes for an incredible ‘forest’ of vividly-coloured sub-tropical fish. Kate cleans the Observatory windows weekly, and we must say: as far as cleaning jobs go, this one’s pretty eventful. Kate recalls being visited by the same McCulloch’s Scaly Fin who would nibble on her hair each week. ‘Each day that I went down to clean his window he would come down in front of my mask as if to say ‘oh, you again’, and he would begin to nibble away, we even had a few games of tug-o-war!’, Kate said. Despite the weekly haircut, Kate never had any desire to tuck her hair away while diving; in fact, she said it was her ‘favourite bit of the dive each week’. The juvenile McCulloch’s Scaly Fin has a bright yellow body and fine electric blue lines over their head, and as adults grow into Australia’s largest damselfish. These guys are endemic to the region so catching their blue flashes at the Underwater Observatory is a true Margaret River experience!
Another incredible underwater sighting to be had is that of the Gloomy Octopus. With an arm span of two metres, these are the largest octopi you can see under the Busselton Jetty. But their arm span isn’t just for catching prey like crabs and crustaceans – they also come in handy for messing with divers like Kate. When an octopus below the Jetty became infatuated with Kate’s white fins for the first time, she thought it was because she was invading his space – so she took her fins off and placed them out of the way. Much to her surprise, the octopus ventured up to grab her fins anyway! Kate said she let him have one to play with, but when she needed it back she had to peak his interest in a snack – a dead crab found nearby – in order to release the fin from his grip. This became a weekly occurrence. ‘I thought I had the little guy trained to hold my fins for me’, Kate said, ‘but in reality, the clever guy had me trained to bring him snacks!’.
Other favourites at the Underwater Observatory include the Giant Cuttlefish, which have special skin cells that allow them to change colour and texture in an instant making them masters of disguise. They’re tricky to spot but it’s well worth the patience if you do happen to catch one changing its appearance. There’s also a bunch of friendly seals that come by and wave to visitors through the window – they’ve got to be the happiest looking animals in the world.
The quintessential wildlife sighting, kangaroos can be seen in huge numbers almost anywhere, just driving around the region or hanging out at your rural accommodation. But having a true encounter with a kangaroo doesn’t happen every day – unless of course you happen to be running an adventure tour, like Mick and Ryan who run South West Eco Discoveries. Mick describes one particular encounter that sticks in his memory as ‘unforgettable’. It had already been a classic night out in the Margaret River region – the group had seen a playful pod of dolphins putting on an aerial surfing show – but things were about to get surreal. ‘Midway through a mother and joey photo shoot, a large cloud of dirt suddenly caught my peripheral,’ Mick said. As the group drove closer, two territorial male kangaroos slowly revealed themselves: they were in a standoff. Mick said the group seemed to grip their seats a bit harder as the kangaroos began to lay blows on each other, with a ‘puff of dust’ coming off each contact. Mick said he remembers the look of ‘intense focus’ in the eye of the victor, the sound of a ‘victory cheer’ that came from a flock of passing cockatoos and the ‘fluttering eyelashes’ of the female kangaroos surrounding the fight. Sights like this might not come often (and kangaroos aren’t always fighting!), but when they do, they’re a fascinating reminder of the wild beauty of the region’s animal kingdom.
Sitting out in the Margaret River region’s bushland at night, you can hear a lot of strange and curious noises. But Mick and Ryan from South West Eco Discoveries describe one sound that they’ll never forget. It was a still and warm night, and the usual nocturnal animals – woylies, quendas, brushtail and ringtail possums – had all made an appearance for their tour group. There were sounds in the bushes, but Mick said that they ‘often hear sounds of animals that we can’t see, such as laughing kookaburras, black cockatoos and scrub wrens’, so not much was thought of it. Until – an unnerving cry that mimicked a human scream sounded out into the night. Mick said the hair stood up on the back of his neck. This was the unmistakable, distinctive cry of the Barking Owl, a rare bird now perched in a tree directly in front of the group. Guests later described this unique experience as one of the best they’d had on their trip to Australia!