Shark Bay is a world heritage site in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia. It is an area centred approximately on , over 800 kilometres north of Perth, on the westernmost point of Australia. An expedition led by Dirk Hartog visited the area in 1616, becoming the second group of Europeans known to have visited Australia. Shark Bay was named by William Dampier, in 1699.
The area has a population of fewer than 1,000 people and a coastline of over 1,500 kilometres. The half dozen small communities making up this population occupy less than 1% of the total area.
The bay itself covers an area of 10,000 km², with an average depth of 10 metres. It is divided by shallow banks and has many peninsulas and islands. The coastline is over 1,500 km long. It is located in the transition zone between three major climatic regions and between two major botanical provinces.
Dirk Hartog Island is of major historic significance due to early explorers landing upon it. Bernier and Dorre islands in the north west corner of the Heritage area are locations of some last remaining habitats of some Australian mammals threatened with extinction.
Shark Bay is an area of major zoological importance. It is home to about 10,000 dugongs (sea cows), and there are many dolphins, particularly at Monkey Mia. The area supports 26 threatened Australian mammal species, over 230 species of bird, and nearly 150 species of reptile. It is an important breeding and nursery ground for fishes, crustaceans, and coelenterates. There are 323 fish species, with many sharks and rays.
Some Bottlenose Dolphins in Shark Bay exhibit the only known case of tool use in marine mammals (outside of sea otters): they protect their beak with a sponge while searching for food in the sandy sea bottom. Apparently, mothers teach their daughters how to do this.
Shark Bay has the largest known area of seagrass, with seagrass meadows covering over 4000 km² of the bay. It includes the 1030 km² Wooramel Seagrass Bank, the largest seagrass bank in the world. Shark Bay also contains the largest number of seagrass species ever recorded in one place; twelve species have been found, with up to nine occurring together in some places.
At Hamelin Pool in the south of the bay, living microbes are building stromatolites that are over 3000 years old. The Hamelin Pool contains the most diverse and abundant examples of stromatolite forms in the world.
Shark Bay was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 1991. The site covers an area of 23,000 square kilometres. It includes many protected areas and conservation reserves, including Shark Bay Marine Park, Francois Peron National Park, Hamelin Pool Marine Nature Reserve, Zuytdorp Nature Reserve and numerous protected islands.
Denham and Useless Loop both fall within the boundary of the site but are specifically excluded from it. Shark Bay was the first to be classified on the Australian World Heritage list.
They are further divided into subregions