Great Barrier Reef animals

The currents and trade winds bring creatures from all over the world to the Great Barrier Reef, including whales and dolphins for the warm tropical waters. They all prosper in the reef’s unique ecosystem. Great Barrier Reef animals
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Great Barrier Reef animals

The Great Barrier Reef’s warm waters are a marine magnet attracting creatures from birds to 100-tonne humpback whales.

The currents and trade winds bring creatures from all over the world to the Great Barrier Reef, including whales and dolphins for the warm tropical waters. They all prosper in the reef’s unique ecosystem.

Whales, doplphins and reptiles


Humpback, dwarf minke, and pilot whales swim up the coast to breed in the reef, and the best time to see them is between July and October. Try Reef Magic Cruises for dedicated whale watching, or find incidental whale watching cruises out of Cairns and the Whitsundays.

Swim with dolphins

You can take a number of cruises around the Whitsundays where it is common to see bottlenose and spinner dolphins.


Fourteen different varieties of sea snake are drawn to the reef, but crocodiles are a main attraction. 

Crocodile sightings are guaranteed from some cruises on both the Daintree and Bloomfield Rivers in the Daintree Rainforest. 
The largest turtle rookery in Australia is in Mon Repos Beach near Bundaberg. Loggerhead turtles come ashore, crawl up the beach and dig holes to lay more than a hundred eggs.  
You can join a guided tour at the Mon Repos Turtle Centre. Make sure you visit between November and March. For more information, contact Mon Repos Turtle Centre.

Birds at Michaelmas Cay, Queensland

Birds of the reef

The skies above the reef are home to at least 23 species of seabird and 41 shorebirds. They arrive to breed, forage and nest on the islands and along the coastal hinterland.  
Thirty-two species of migratory birds spend time on the reef. They include oriental pratincoles, great knots, red-necked stints, bar-tailed godwits and black-tailed godwits.  
There are sharp-tailed, curlew and broad-billed sandpipers. Walk along the beaches of the coral atolls or explore the mangroves and rainforests to see many species of birds from around the world.

Whitsunday Island, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland

Corals, plankton and fish

You won’t see them all, but the reef is home to a staggering 1,400 varieties of coral and 1,625 species of fish.  

Soft corals, jellyfish and sponges drift in from the Coral Sea. Plankton drifts towards the reef and provides food for whales. The warm waters also attract seahorses, barramundi cod and Maori wrasse.

If you’re there in October or November, you can observe coral spawning that usually happens just after sunset on the fourth day following the full moon. Yes, it is that predictable! 

In the Reef HQ in Townsville, you can see this in the aquarium’s 2.8 million-litre living coral reef system. Check out Reef HQ for details.

Snorkel and scuba dive with tropical fish and sharks

You can see reef sharks swimming with fish around the coral atolls and on platforms located at the edge of the reef off Cairns and Port Douglas.  
If you don’t want to get wet, it is possible to see the fish from a submersible or an underwater viewing area, but nothing compares to snorkeling or diving. Try the underwater challenge at Diving Cairns

Molluscs, crustaceans and shells

You’ll see shells that homed over 3,000 species of molluscs from the Coral Sea, washed up on the beach.  
Some of these – including helmet, triton and tridacnid clams – are protected. Others, like the stromb, dove, cowry and nautilus shells are very beautiful.

Find more animal experiences on the Great Barrier Reef

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